Posted: Nov. 10, 2005
A DEAL IS A DEAL, FOR ALL THAT
By Celia Cohen
As political deals go, the one that put Attorney General M. Jane Brady on the bench was pretty much a clean one, no messy linkages, no posturing, no pretending things were not going bump in the night when everybody knew that they were.
It was an old-fashioned, straightforward deal. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner had something to trade to Brady – a judgeship. Brady had something to trade to Minner – the power to appoint an attorney general.
Minner got more out of it than Brady did. The Democratic governor had to give the judgeship to a Republican like Brady, regardless, to keep the political balance required on the courts. It might as well go to the attorney general and give Minner the rare pleasure of filling a statewide elected office all by herself.
The last time that happened, U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle was the Republican governor, and he grabbed an office for his party. In 1989 he made a state auditor out of R. Thomas Wagner Jr., replacing Democrat Dennis E. Greenhouse, who had been elected New Castle County executive halfway through his term as auditor. Wagner has held the job ever since.
What Brady lacked in strength of return, however, she made up for in longevity. The judgeship will last 12 years – long after Minner retires from the governorship when her second term ends in January 2009. Longer for anyone who thinks Minner already has retired on the job.
By now, the bets are being placed that the year or so left in Brady’s term will go to Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, the Wilmington lawyer and senator’s son who was expected to be the Democrats’ 2006 candidate for attorney general, anyway.
It is some kind of deal if it can be said to revolve around a governor, an attorney general, a United States senator and who-knows-what Beau Biden will end up as.
Minner already has a smoking ban as part of her legacy. Now she can add smoke-and-mirrors.
The breathtaking import of this deal goes up significantly with the realization that it was done by two women. It is a first in Delaware for something of such magnitude.
This is a Louisiana Purchase of deals, although it should take nothing away in gender politics from what state Sen. Nancy W. Cook, the queen of Legislative Hall, does day in and day out, year in and year out, decade in and decade out. Cook, a Democrat who sees all as the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, is such a dealmaker it would not be surprising if there were car salespeople who light candles to her. Certainly lobbyists do.
The deal was done without public acknowledgement or apologies. Minner and Brady both came up the hard way, coming out of working-class families and too focused on making it to acquire a coat of polish along the way.
Minner had to spend 18 years in the legislature before she got to statewide office, and Brady had to lose first to U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. – adding irony to this deal.
Minner and Brady worked at politics as hard as mule skinners and mostly have been treated that way, never getting much recognition for their accomplishments, Minner as a four-time statewide winner as lieutenant governor and the first woman to be governor and Brady as a three-time statewide winner and the first woman to be attorney general.
As the deal was closing, there were lawyers sniffing about the unseemly politics of it all, but where have they been? Rather than raise any objections, the Delaware State Bar Association blinked, deciding it was better to stay away from controversies.
When the times call for standing up, the bar association calls for sitting it out.
The top judges in the state all have paid political dues to get where they are. Judges are bound to refrain from partisan politics after they go on the bench, not before. Chief Justice Myron T. Steele was a Kent County Democratic chair. Chancellor William B. Chandler III was counsel to Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont. Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. was . . . well, Vaughn is in a class by himself.
Vaughn became a Superior Court judge in 1998 when U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper was the Democratic governor and wanted to make Leo E. Strine Jr., his counsel, a vice chancellor on the Court of Chancery, the state’s highly regarded forum for corporate law.
In those days Strine thought of himself as a “mad wizard,” certainly a cut above the muggles in the Senate. Personality-wise, he was more Harry Potter’s evil twin than Harry Potter.
There was no guarantee Carper could find 11 votes in the 21-member Senate to confirm Strine, so steps were taken to guarantee it.
Along with Strine, the governor nominated Vaughn, the son of state Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat, to be a Superior Court judge and also Lester H. Blades, the nephew of Robert J. Voshell, then a Democratic state senator from Milford, to be a Family Court commissioner. Nobody bothered to mention that Blades had a disciplinary record from his work as a Dover attorney – a private admonition from the Supreme Court.
After an acid confirmation hearing, Strine was confirmed by 12 “yes” votes – eight fewer votes than Brady got, by the way. Vaughn Jr. and Blades waltzed through their confirmations, and six years later Minner made Vaughn Jr. the Superior Court president judge.
The Court of Chancery still stands, the pride of the state. The Superior Court remains the highest-ranked court by corporate counsel across the country.
Perhaps it should be noted that Chancery exists at all because of some deal-making by John Dickinson and George Read, two of the most famous names in state history. Both represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
Dickinson was a Democrat. Read was a Federalist. In 1792 when the state was writing a new constitution, the Federalists were in control, and they wanted to dump Chief Justice William Killen, who was a Democrat, and install Read in his place. Dickinson and Read saw to it that Killen had a soft landing by creating the Court of Chancery in the new constitution and making Killen the chancellor.
No one would confuse Minner and Brady with Dickinson and Read. No one will remember in 200 years how Brady got on the bench or even if she got on the bench. Not unless Beau Biden goes a lot farther than anybody thinks.