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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 08, 2018 1:00 am

Secrecy on high court nominees not new

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – To keep his arrival in Washington secret, the Supreme Court nominee was driven along a back farm road and flown to the nation's capital on a military jet. He stayed with friends, rather than at a hotel. That allowed President Donald Trump to build up the suspense until he revealed, in a 2017 prime-time address, his first pick for the high court: Neil Gorsuch.

Trump has scheduled a prime-time address Monday to announce his second nomination, a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. But he isn't alone: Recent presidents have gone to similar lengths when it comes to Supreme Court nominations.

To avoid press attention and potential leaks, President Bill Clinton asked his first nominee to the high court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to come to the White House on a weekend and enter through the back door when she came for an interview. Her instructions from there: Head to the Clinton family's private residence on the second floor, not to the Oval Office.

“We had all this leaking about the process and the candidates,” Clinton told Ginsburg's biographers of her 1993 nomination. “I said, surely to goodness we can get her in on Sunday through the back door without anybody knowing about it.”

“It tickled her that I had to smuggle her into the White House,” Clinton said.

George W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito's visit to the White House involved a car and a weekend visit. He has said his instructions, after checking into a downtown hotel, were that he should “go to a particular corner at a particular time in the morning and wait for a Chrysler 300 to pull up, flash its headlights a couple of times, and then I was to get in this car.”

“So I felt like a spy,” Alito said in a 2015 interview.

Justice Clarence Thomas flew to Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1991 for the announcement of his nomination by President George H.W. Bush. First, Thomas was told to meet a Justice Department official at a shopping center near his home for the trip to Andrews Air Force Base, where he boarded a government plane.

Once he arrived in Maine, a Secret Service detail picked Thomas up in a black SUV with tinted windows, and they drove in the service entrance to Bush's home. An agent handed Thomas a folded newspaper to hold between his face and the window.

Thomas said the president “seemed to revel in outwitting the reporters.”