Written June 29, 2010     

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Supreme Court

© 2016 Bob Lonsberry

Mt. Morris  

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I’m probably the last person Mike Lee wants to take advice from.

But I may be the only person he can trust.

Because I’m not trying to kiss his backside. I don’t want anything from him, I’m not looking for a job, I’m not a namedropper.

I just have advice.

The first thing he should realize is that he wasn’t cut out to be a senator.

And that’s not an insult.

Because he may have been cut out to be something more. In the back of his mind, Mike Lee should understand that the Congress isn’t really his branch of government.

Perhaps he will spend the next 30 or 40 years in the Senate, amassing whatever legacy such a tenure representing Utah might bring. Or perhaps the Senate is just a way station, a steppingstone to where he more rightly belongs.

Namely, the Supreme Court.

No man knows the future, but it’s possible that Mike Lee’s prime association with the Supreme Court will not be as Alito’s clerk, but as Scalia’s replacement.

At 38, he is young for Washington. Very young. He is several years younger than anyone currently in the Senate. That means he’s got plenty of future, and part of his job today is preparing for and paving the way to tomorrow.

First, let’s talk about the Senate.

He is not a great orator or a charismatic figure. He’s got a goofy sense of humor and an intellectual’s penchant for tangents. He can pound the lectern but everyone knows it’s an affectation.

Translation, Mike Lee is not going to be a floor leader for any great Senate crusades. Nor is he going to be the guy who gets to talk at press conferences or go on the Sunday morning talk shows.

There’s nothing wrong with Mike Lee’s ability to speak or handle himself in public, but he is going to an institution of egomaniacs where being telegenic and offering up sound bites are the stock in trade. He’s not going to win that contest.

And he’s about 50 percent smarter than he needs to be. The depth of his legal and constitutional knowledge will mostly go unused.

All of which means he won’t ever be a star of the Senate. That doesn’t mean he can’t serve honorably and well for the next three or four decades, or that he won’t find a niche and be successful, but it means the Senate isn’t exactly his thing.

It also recognizes that the influence of one senator can be diluted. Mike Lee’s new colleague, Orrin Hatch, has spent almost 35 years in the Senate, and has been able to parley that into pretty fair national prominence. But there really is not a very significant nation-changing body of work to Orrin Hatch’s credit. That’s not a whack on Orrin Hatch, it’s a reflection of the way the Senate works. Orrin Hatch has done a commendable job, but he hasn’t truly made much of a difference.

That is the lot for all but the tiniest handful of senators in our history.

Understanding that, Mike Lee can certainly hold his own, and be an adequate senator.

But he may be able to be more.

His eyes should be on a bigger prize. Not as a public aspiration, but as a private understanding and as a potential future that is prepared for and not forestalled. He shouldn’t pass out “Mike Lee for Supreme Court” bumper stickers, but he should approach his Senate duties and relationships in such a fashion as to leave that door open, so that he could be both a reasonable nomination and confirmation.

He should be a steady constitutionalist, but he should do it with a smile on his face and in an affable and self-deprecating manner. He should be neither a threat nor an enemy to anyone in the Senate. He should be friendly with all, and able to sustain warm collegial relationships even in the face of philosophical disagreement.

He should always vote his conscience and never vote his party. He should be a patriot and not a partisan. Leave the political gamesmanship to others and don’t be a grandstander.

He should not fall into the bipartisan trap of stonewalling presidents’ judicial appointments. “Advise and consent” is a scalpel, not a machete. It is meant to protect the Republic, not for political blackmail.

He should be faithful to constitutional and conservative principles, so as to merit the nomination of a Republican president. But he should be friendly and respectful of others in the Senate, so as to avoid significant Democratic opposition to confirmation.

All of this may seem ridiculously premature – but only to those unaccustomed to achievement. We’ve probably never had a president who didn’t start thinking about it when he was 13. And we’ve probably never had anyone on the Supreme Court who hadn’t hoped for the honor.

My advice is to merely remember that preparation is the companion of hope. And Mike Lee should be preparing to serve on the Supreme Court.

The odds are he may never. But he should prepare just the same – because doing so will make him a more effective senator, and because the possibility makes the preparation worthwhile.

And because, if that fate were to await Mike Lee, he would be doing what he was cut out to do. Almost nothing in his life has prepared Mike Lee to be a member of the United States Senate. Almost everything in his life has prepared Mike Lee to be a member of the United States Supreme Court.

And inasmuch as that body – and a young, persuasive member of it – has tremendous power in this Republic, it is there where the important work of saving the Constitution may most significantly be done.

That may be the battlefield upon which Mike Lee was born to fight.

There will be Republican presidents in the future, maybe as soon as two and a half years from now. And they will make nominations to the Supreme Court. Ten or even 20 years from now, Mike Lee will still be young enough to give years of service on the court. He should be preparing for that day.

That’s my advice for Mike Lee.

The Senate is an important job, and he should do his best. But he should recognize the potential of his future, and do the things that will pave the way to that future.

Maybe he will grow old in the Senate.

Or maybe fate of a different kind will one day knock on his door.

He should understand that it is his duty to be ready.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2010

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