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.
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.
From page 177 of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin:
With one exception, the justices tried to put Bush v. Gore behind them and resume business as usual. Three weeks later, Scalia and Ginsburg followed their custom of welcoming the New Year with each other's families. Breyer, characteristically, made a systematic effort to take many of the disappointed liberal law clerts to lunch. In restaurants, often at embarrassingly high decibels, Breyer urged the young lawyers to maintain their faith in the Court and believe that their views might someday return to favor. O'Connor tried to avoid discussing the case. Kennedy pretended the whole matter was no big deal.
David Souter alone was shattered. He was, fundamentally, a very different person from his colleagues. It wasn't just that they had immediate families; their lives off the bench were entirely unlike his. They went to parties and conferences; they gave speeches; they mingled in Washington, where cynicism about everything, including the work of the Supreme Court, was universal. Toughened, or coarsened, by their worldly lives, the other dissenters could shrug and move on, but Souter couldn't. His whole live was being a judge. He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law. And Souter believed Bush v. Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues' actions were so transparently, so crudely partisan that Souter thought he might not be able to serve with them anymore.
Souter seriously considered resigning. For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice. That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same. There were times when David Souter thought of Bush v. Gore and wept.