Supreme Court nominee Gerry Darrow held a surprise press conference this afternoon, bidding reporters to "Ask me anything." Across town, co-nominee Elena Kagan, was hidden away from the press with White House handlers, in preparation for the confirmation hearings set to begin Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
President Barack Obama stunned the nation earlier this year when he nominated Darrow, a Connecticut public defender, to the Supreme Court. To mollify critics of his decision to nominate such an unconventional candidate, the president then nominated Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General and a former dean of the Harvard Law School. "Let the people choose," Obama said, setting the two candidates for office on a collision course in this week's hearings to select a replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens.
"Of course, there can be but one Justice," Carswell Redding of the Cato Institute said. "The president's decision to nominate two contrasting candidates is unprecedented in our history. I'm not sure how the Senate will respond."
Darrow seemed unconcerned about the Senate reaction on Sunday, laughing as reporters peppered him with questions.
"Original intent? Beyond efforts to preserve liberty by creating checks and balances and limiting the reach of the federal government, I don't think Tom Jefferson has a whole lot to say. He's been dead a good long while, hasn't he?," Darrow said when asked about original intent. "Scalia's a bright guy," Darrow said of Justice Antonin Scalia, a proponent of trying to tether the Constitution's meaning to the intent of the framers, "but he should have gone to divinity school, or maybe taught biology in Dayton, Tennesse."
"That's right up there with the Tooth Fairy, in my view," Darrow then said about a recent Court decision giving to corporations unlimited rights to contribute to political campaigns. "Corporations aren't people. Never were. Can't be. They're simply fictions designed to limit risk for necessary investments. The decision is a disaster," he said of the case, called Citizens United.
Darrow's free-wheeling style and easy-going demeanor are expected to mark a contrast to Kagan's reserve and polish. Whereas Kagan has spent the past six weeks courting Senators in private one-on-one meetings, visiting more than 60 at last count, Darrow has kept busy at work in the Connecticut criminal courts. Last week, Darrow tried a drunken driving case, winning for an acquittal for a man the police found passed out behind the wheel of an idling car. "The statute says you have to prove operation. No one saw him driving the car. He had an empty bottle on his lap. I guess the jury concluded he drank it as he sat looking out at the water," Darrow said with a shrug. "It's hard to figure on juries, not that Kagan would know much about that."
Legal experts doubt Darrow has much of a chance of confirmation. His style is often blunt, even confrontational, character traits honed in the one-on-one combat of a courtroom. Darrow was once held in contempt when a microphone picked up a comment he made a little too loudly during closing arguments in a murder case. "Bullshit," he said of the prosecutor's closing. He later apologized.
But placards carried by demonstrators outside the Court during Darrow's press conference suggest some support for the trial lawyer. Several people carried large photographs of Kagan with a large X over her face. "Just say no," the signs said. "It's time for a people's lawyer," said other signs.
"Look, I know I am not the choice of insiders," Darrow told a reporter. "But we've heard so much coded cow dung at confirmations over the past couple of decades I am pleased as punch to sit there and give the Senate some straight talk."
"How would I vote on Roe v. Wade?" he asked. "Aren't you going to ask? Well, let me tell you: I don't want any government poking around between my or my wife's legs. You'll get yourself shot doing that. I suppose that tells you what I think about the Second Amendment, too," he said with a wink.
Darrow clearly seemed to be enjoying the press conference, pausing frequently to shake hands with well wishers and the curious.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow. But I'll bet Kagan isn't. She locked up somewhere studying how to talk and not say anything. Haven't we had enough of that? I'd say we need a little frank talk for a change."
For more coverage of Gerry Darrow, click here.