Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Who should replace Justice Souter?

President Barack Obama will get his first chance to appoint a Supreme Court justice this year because of Justice David Souter’s plans to retire. Here is my wish list:

1. Obama should leave no opening to question whether his nominee is qualified for the Supreme Court. The easiest way to accomplish this would be for Obama to elevate one of the many good judges Bill Clinton appointed, who now have a decade or more of experience in the federal court sytem.

2. Among the highly qualified candidates, Obama should pick someone who is not a white male. Normally I detest identity politics, but this is the exception that proves the rule. Only two white women have ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only two black men have ever served on the court. No Latino or Asian men or women have served on the court. It’s not a question of picking someone less qualified. I assume that approximately 200 Americans are qualified for this job, and many people with superb credentials are not white males. Some of them are mentioned here.

3. I don’t want Obama to use this opportunity to prove how bipartisan he is by nominating some middle-of-the-road judge. George Bush’s extreme right-wing nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, need to be balanced. I am not saying Obama should pick a radical left-winger, but he should pick someone better than “centrist.”

4. On a related note, I would like to see someone to help move the Supreme Court away from its current pro-corporate bias. Clinton’s appointees were quite corporate-friendly, especially Steven Breyer. Bush’s appointees were extremely hostile to the rights of workers and environmental concers. I want someone who will bring some balance to the court.

5. Mr. desmoinesdem adds that Obama should pick someone with expertise in criminal law. None of the current justices had that background when they were appointed, but the Supreme Court hears many criminal law cases. I would assume that any judge with a decade of experience in the federal court system would be sufficiently familiar with criminal law.

I am confident that Obama will pick someone qualified. I am reasonably confident he will pick someone who is not a white male. I am less optimistic about whether he will pick a liberal. Given the economic team Obama has assembled, I am pessimistic about the chances for him to pick someone with less of a pro-corporate bias.

What do you think?

Todd Beeton spoke for many when he wrote last night,

Dear Justice Souter,

Thank you for waiting.

Thank you.

I’m grateful to Justice John Paul Stevens, but in some ways Souter deserves our thanks more, because for the last eight years he put his own preferences aside for the sake of the public interest.  

After the jump I’ve posted an excerpt Mr. desmoinesdem showed me from Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. It describes how Souter was “shattered” by the majority’s ruling in Bush v. Gore.

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Your laugh for the day

Mr. desmoinesdem is reading Jan Crawford Greenburg’s book Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. (It was reviewed here at the Volokh conspiracy blog.)

When Justice William Brennan left the court at the beginning of Poppy Bush’s presidency, Kenneth Starr was the early favorite to get the nomination, but Bush’s Attorney General Richard Thornburgh rejected him as “unacceptable” because he was not reliably conservative enough.

So Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu (a former governor of New Hampshire) and New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman prevailed upon the White House to nominate David Souter instead. Oops!

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was among the Senate Republicans who were deeply concerned by the answers Souter gave during his confirmation hearings. But according to Greenburg, Republicans

could not abandon a man the White House had assured them was a reliable conservative. Some assumed Souter was simply pandering to Democrats to get through the committee, and they refused to believe he meant what he said.

Souter was the last “stealth conservative” you’ll ever see a Republican president nominate for the Supreme Court. If John McCain gets elected, expect more like Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

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