It’s good to be Brian Sandoval, rising Republican star and possible Supreme Court nominee.
Nevada’s Republican governor is being weighed as a possible pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, our colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Mike DeBonis scoop. There’s no guarantee President Obama will nominate Sandoval — it’s not even clear how many candidates are being considered — but the possibility raises doubts that the Senate GOP could maintain its blockade against a candidate from their own party. If he’s picked, Sandoval could force Republicans’ hand.
This isn’t the first time Sandoval’s been mentioned for a step up the ladder. The Nevada Republican Party saw him as a dream candidate to challenge Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2016 before Reid announced he would retire. Sandoval has been handicapped as a possible future cabinet secretary or Republican vice presidential nominee. And four years ago, he was reported as considering a run for the Oval Office in 2016.
The decision not to run might prove prescient. Sandoval rose from an anonymous Reno attorney to governor of Nevada over 20 years. If he’s nominated to the Supreme Court and somehow confirmed, he will have jumped from state political star to decisive judicial force on the country’s highest bench.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has known Sandoval since the 1990s, said last year that he could see the governor as a justice.
“He has a real opportunity that most of us serving in the Senate don’t really have,” Heller told The Post. “I see him as a VP candidate. I see him as a justice. I see him as attorney general or a Cabinet member. Those are some real opportunities, depending on what he wants to do.”
Obama picking Sandoval would have strong political overtones, and not just because it would put Republicans in an uncomfortable position.
The California-born Sandoval is a likable centrist politician of Mexican descent. At 52-years old, he’s held virtually every important office in Nevada — assemblyman, member of the Nevada Gaming Commission, attorney general, federal district judge, now governor — and was elected multiple times by a swing state Obama carried twice. These successes make him a serious political asset for Republicans, though the fact he defies party orthodoxy on abortion, immigration and health care makes his electoral path uncertain.
Sandoval’s political career has been defined by a measure of ideological flexibility. In addition to supporting abortion rights and a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, he proposed — and last year enacted — the largest tax hike in Nevada history as part of his K-12 education reform initiative. In a blow to national Republicans, Sandoval also embraced the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion in 2012.
Sandoval and Reid have a cordial relationship, who he once praised as an example of the “Nevada and American dream,” even though he beat Reid’s son in the 2010 governor’s race. Much of his statewide agenda, he’s had to pass with support from Democrats and over the opposition of his own party.
Sandoval has demonstrated some interest in joining the high court, telling the Morning Consult over the weekend that “it would be a privilege” to serve as a justice. But after the news broke Wednesday, Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said, “Neither Governor Sandoval nor his staff has been contacted by or talked to the Obama Administration regarding any potential vetting for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“I think he loved being a judge and still acts like one,” leading Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston told The Post’s Chris Cillizza last year. “He’s very deliberative, thoughtful, weighs all evidence before making a decision. He might consider an appointment to the Ninth Circuit, perhaps as a pathway to the Supreme Court.”