Gravel’s justice of choice: Amar

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel, currently polling at 0 percent, will probably never have an opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice.

But if he has the chance, the former Alaska senator says he has already made up his mind. His man: Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar ’80 LAW ’84.

In a recent interview with the News after speaking to students at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., Gravel said Amar would not only be his first choice to serve on the high court but also his first choice for the position of chief justice, should the post become vacant.

“I’d appoint him in a heartbeat,” Gravel declared. “There’s no one who knows the Constitution better than he does.”

Gravel called himself a huge fan of Amar’s 2005 book, “America’s Constitution: A Biography.” And the one-time legislator said he was so smitten with the popular law school professor that he went out of his way to gauge whether Amar would be interested in a spot on the nation’s highest court — provided, of course, Gravel became president.

“I said, ‘If I’m president’ — a big if — ‘would you accept a Supreme Court appointment?’ “ Gravel recalled. “He said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I said, ‘Well, think about it.’ ”

Reached by telephone this week, Amar — who teaches the undergraduate lecture “Constitutional Law,” one of the most popular courses at Yale — chuckled when told of Gravel’s remarks.

“That’s very flattering, but don’t hold your breath,” Amar said. “I’m not quitting my day job.”

Amar said he met Gravel several years ago while in Washington, D.C. to deliver testimony. Gravel contacted Amar, said he was familiar with the professor’s work and asked to show him around the capital for the day. Gravel once stopped by Amar’s New Haven-area home while passing through the state, he added.

“We’re friends,” Amar said. “He’s a very nice guy.”

Nice or not, Gravel has not exactly captured the fancy of the Democratic electorate. His campaign platform includes calls for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service and the legalization of marijuana. In New Hampshire, where he spoke to about 50 Exeter students on the eve of last month’s primary, Gravel won 402 votes out of more than 250,000 cast — or just over one one-thousandth of the vote.

That may not have been a stellar performance, but it at least beat his showing in the Nutmeg State on Tuesday. Gravel garnered only 272 votes in Connecticut’s primary, good for less than one one-thousandth of the vote. And his reception among establishment voices has been equally unenthusiastic: “I sure would like to meet those Gravel voters,” New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote last month. “Were they really aiming for somebody else and slipped?”

Amar, meanwhile, said he does not have his sights set on anything beyond his current gig as the Southmayd Professor of Law.

As far as Supreme Court prospects are concerned, Amar said there are numerous other professors at Yale, and elsewhere, who have significantly more government service under their belts and would be excellent candidates for the bench.

“I’m not really running for anything,” he said. “There are lots of amazingly qualified people out there … and I’m pretty happy where I am.”

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