Patsy Brumfield 5/13/09
Leslie Criss 5/15/09
Mike Tonos 5/15/09
Graves could be in line for a future court nomination
* With more vacancies likely, the state justice has been mentioned as a potential choice.
By Patsy R. Brumfield
President Barack Obama is widely expected to nominate a woman to fill the vacancy created by Justice David Souter’s impending retirement.
But when the next vacancy occurs, Mississippi court-watchers think state Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr.’s name could be among those considered.
Graves is the court’s lone African-American, appointed Nov. 1, 2001, and has been a presiding justice since January.
Obama, a Democrat who taught constitutional law, has said the single most important qualification his appointments must possess is empathy for those who are less fortunate. And Graves’ background, which includes work with legal services and the state Attorney General’s Office, would indicate he fits that bill.
The White House is looking to the Mississippi U.S. House members for names because the state’s senators, who usually suggest nominees, are Republicans. Ultimately, however, the nominations must come from the Senate.
“We don’t yet know the administration’s timeline for filling these vacancies,” said Sen. Thad Cochran’s aide Margaret McPhillips, “but Sen. Cochran does look forward to working with the president on the nominees as they go through the Senate confirmation process.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, is widely considered Mississippi’s top “nominator” to Obama. Although U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, has more seniority, he generally has shyed away from the appointment process. It’s unclear what role Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, is playing.
Thompson declined to comment on the idea.
With discussion of the vacancy circulating in Mississippi legal circles, Graves’ name has been mentioned as a potential choice, if not this time then maybe in the future.
Veteran political observer Dr. Marty Wiseman of Starkville agrees that Graves, in his mid-50s, “should stay ready because John Paul Stevens and Ginsberg are going at any time now.” He’s referring to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who suffers from cancer, and Stevens, who is 89.
Graves declined last week to discuss the matter
In September, Obama told an audience that he is “committed to appointing judges who understand how law operates in our daily lives, judges who will uphold the values at the core of our Constitution.”
Appointed to the state’s highest court by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Graves has experience with the law and with empathy.
Graves grew up in Clinton, where he was Sumner Hill High’s valedictorian.
He’s worked by Central Mississippi Legal Services, was a special assistant for the attorney general’s Human Services Division and director of the state DHS Division of Child Support Enforcement, in addition to private law practice.
His education background is strong: bachelor of arts in sociology from Millsaps College, and a law degree and a master of public administration from Syracuse University.
He’s taught the law at Harvard, presented twice at Stanford Law School and was a jurist-in-residence at Syracuse’s School of Law. He also been an adjunct professor at Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and Millsaps.
Graves, a 12-year high school mock trial coach, has earned top humanitarian awards from Millsaps, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Mississippi Association of Educators and was Jackson Public School’s Parent of the Year for 2000-2001.