Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said in Greenville Friday that he wouldn’t repeat the mistake his father made in picking David Souter to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Souter was billed as a conservative when he was nominated by Bush’s father, former president George H.W. Bush, but ended up voting regularly with the court’s liberal wing.
The elder Bush nominated Souter in part on the theory that it would be easier to have him confirmed by the Senate since he didn’t have much of a record to object to, the younger Bush acknowledged during an exclusive interview with The Greenville News.
Jeb Bush said he’d take a different tack than his father did with Souter, if he's elected president, putting forth only nominees with a known record that reveals their judicial philosophies, then using his political clout to push them through the Senate.
“These picks are so important for the future of our country that if the next president gets to pick a Supreme Court justice they should pick someone – I would pick someone – with a proven judicial philosophy based on rulings and fight,” Bush said.
Bush said that as Florida governor, he studied the records of Supreme Court nominees in depth “because you don’t want people wandering off.”
He made the same point later Friday during a forum with South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson at Furman University.
Wilson questioned Bush about his views on a variety of constitutional questions, many of them related to issues the Attorney General’s Office has litigated under Wilson, such as the Affordable Care Act, immigration and the Dodd-Frank regulation of financial services.
Asked by Wilson what Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with, Bush cited a 2005 case in which the court ruled a city government was within its rights to use its imminent domain power to transfer private property to a developer for the purpose of economic development.
Bush used the question as an opportunity to attack New York billionaire Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, saying the court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London is “the kind of thing that one of the candidates for president actually wanted to get done by using this police powers to garner property from a widow that did not want to sell for building a casino.”
Hope Hicks, spokeswoman for Trump’s national campaign, couldn’t immediately be reached for a response.
Bush caused a stir on social media when he said while talking with Wilson about gun violence that “stuff happens. There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
He clarified the comment to reporters later, saying he wasn’t referring to Thursday’s shooting at an Oregon community college that left nine dead.
The remark was “not related to Oregon,” Bush told reporters. “Just clarity here, let’s make sure that we don’t allow this to get out of control. There are all sorts of things that happen in life. Tragedies unfold.
“If there’s a problem, a defect in the law, fine,” Bush said. “And we did that all the time. But sometimes you’re imposing solutions to problems that doesn’t fix the problem and takes away people’s liberties and rights and that’s what I was trying to say.”
Bush arrived in Greenville lower in the polls than he’s been before.
A Gravis Marketing poll of South Carolina Republicans out Thursday put him in sixth place, with just under 6 percent.
Trump took first in the poll, with 29 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 16 percent and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina at 11 percent.
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, countered Bush’s message during a conference call with reporters Friday morning, saying Bush had resorted to “a strategy of appealing to the far-right wing” as he’s dropped in the polls.
Bush also shared his views on religious liberty at the forum and during his interview with The Greenville News.
He said he was surprised but “pleased” to learn that Pope Francis had met privately during his recent trip to the United States with Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who went to jail rather than sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. (The Vatican clarified later that she was part of a group and did not have a private audience with him.)
Bush, a Catholic, said small businesses such as bakers or florists should not be compelled to sell goods or services for a gay wedding, though they should be barred from discriminating against gay customers outside of the wedding context.
“I think that’s the common ground where a majority of Americans feel comfortable,” he told The Greenville News. “They don’t want to have people discriminated against, and they don’t want to force people to go against deeply held religious views.”
Before going to Furman, Bush made an unpublicized campaign stop at Stax’s Original Restaurant on Poinsett Highway.
There he surprised Greenville residents Charles and Judy Nelson, who were sitting at one of the booths when Bush walked up and spoke with them.
The Nelsons, both in their 70s, said they’d likely vote for Bush in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential preference primary on Feb. 20.
“I think he’s a good Christian, decent man,” Judy Nelson said.
Another Bush supporter at the Furman event, Catherine Templeton, general counsel of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, said she’s supporting the former Florida governor because she wants “the smartest, most learned, considered thought leader to take care of this country and not the showman.”
Templeton, a lawyer, formerly ran the state departments of Labor and Health and Environmental Control.