Monday, April 12, 2010

Stevens Leaves Big Robe to Fill on Supreme Court

With the retirement of John Paul Stevens from the Supreme Court at the end of the current session, President Barack Obama has another major decision to make in selecting another nominee for the nation's highest court. Who will he pick to shore up certainly and arguably the anchor of the liberal wing of the court?

His last nominee was brilliant. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been a wonderful addition to the court. She represented someone who was supremely qualified for the job, and she also brought a whole set of life experiences that were different from those of any other justice.

Stevens' retirement brings up different problems for Obama this time. Stevens served a minority population on the court in a couple of ways. First of all, he was the only Protestant on the court. The other justices are either Catholic or Jewish. Secondly, while Stevens was appointed by a Republican and is, by party, a Republican, he tended to ignore his party affiliation and rule somewhat more liberally.

In this day and age of politicizing the most ridiculous issues, and, yes, I'm guilty too, Stevens' record of ruling without regard to party really makes things more and more difficult for Obama. That's not the political climate right now. Progressives will want a rabid liberal, and conservatives will want a Scalia clone.

With a current conservative balance on this court, Stevens' retirement will not change that balance as he was not on the conservative side of the ledger. I hope that Obama finds a progressive nominee that will add a wealth of different experiences to the court. I could care less what religion that person is or where they went to law school, but I would love to see someone that doesn't fit the profile of anyone else on that current line up.

Perhaps it's time for another African-American justice that is more progressive than Clarence Thomas (of course that's not that hard). Perhaps it's time for a gay justice. Perhaps it's time for someone outside the box. Certainly, it's not time to play around. The nominee should be supremely qualified for the job, and that's the first requirement. Sonia Sotomayor brought those different experiences into the court, but her resume was impeccable.

So, as Justice Stevens rides off into the sunset at 90 years old (on April 20), he leaves at a great moment. Appointed by President Gerald Ford, he has served admirably and extremely well on the court. His 38 years of experience on the bench and independence he has shown will be sorely missed and simply cannot be replaced. Upon the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005, Stevens served as Acting Chief Justice.

When he came on the Court in 1975, it consisted of Chief Justice Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist, Potter Stewart, and Byron White. As he leaves, the Court now consists of Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas.

Just reading the names should show how different the Court is today.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Stevens IS a "rabid" liberal. You're portraying him as much more independent and moderate than he actually is. Stevens will never be confused as one of the better Supreme Court judges in history. The shoes won't be hard to fill at all.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Thank you for this fitting tribute to the great Judge John Paul Stevens, Jon. I wish he was not retiring from the Supreme Court, but, then, who can blame him.