HOMER?!" A distinguished Democrat could hardly believe the news that Lyndon Johnson had nominated his friend of two decades, William Homer Thornberry, 59, to the Supreme Court. Equally incredulous was a clutch of conservative Republicans, who saw the nomination as a political payoff to an old crony whose judicial credentials fall somewhat short of the standards demanded by the nation's highest court.

Old crony he certainly is; yet this assessment could prove to be unfair. A protegé of Sam Rayburn's, the late Speaker of the House, and of Johnson's, Thornberry had an indifferent record...

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