Friday, May 1, 2009

Why the Selection of a New Supreme Court Justice by President Obama Promises To Be A Real Challenge and Opportunity for the U.S. Left


This upcoming battle over President Obama's potential nominee for the Supreme Court in light of David Souter stepping down promises to be one of the most important political and ideological battles of Obama's presidency and a crucial test of whether his administration is fully prepared to go all the way to secure the appointment of a new Justice who will be an unequivocally progressive/liberal voice who will fully and vigorously protect and defend the human and civil rights of national minorities, women, labor, children, and consumers against the ongoing legal assault on these citizens and their rights by the current heinously rightwing court led by the despicable likes of Justices Anthony Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alioto, and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Further this fight (along with the looming fierce political battles over the crucial need for widespread governmental regulation of the banks, lending agencies, and financial investment institutions, passing a massive national budget as well as major reform for a new national health care plan, energy and environmental policy, and education--from preschool levels to college-- ) clearly indicates that the American Left (as relentlessly immature as it is) has its work cut out for itself and yet can still make a major contribution toward WINNING these very important and necessary battles IF it can ever seriously wean itself off the deadend infantilism of mindless carping and moaning about the perceived and actual limitations and shortcomings of Obama's personal political and ideological personality and identity long enough to do THE REAL WORK they should actually be engaged in with respect to these major issues and concerns. This means that what the Left and other progressives/radicals SHOULD be focused on instead is doing the hard and necessary work of intelligently organizing, educating, and mobilizing working people, minorities, women, and liberal middle and upper middle class professionals alike in a national broadbased COALITION of American citizens who know that the proper fight now (and forever) is with and against the dangerously reactionary--which is to say the thoroughly racist, sexist, homophobic, and imperialist Republican Party and the endless number of well financed independent rightwing organizations and academic/activist propagandists who we all had better believe are going to vociferously oppose any and all attempts by President Obama's administration as well as more the rest of us to move even a milimeter in the direction of genuine progressive change on these and other issues.

So the fight for "change" in this context is for once crystal clear and generally unambiguous--which in itself is a pleasantly refreshing change. To say that EVERYTHING depends on the independent quality, depth, and breadth of our collective national political and ideological response to the massive challenges before us is a huge understatement. This series of battles will truly require us all to THINK HARD AND LONG about precisely where we want and need to go and actually make the supreme effort to do so as well as indicate how, when, and where we want/need to actively support and defend Obama's reformist initiatives and conversely when and where we need/want to oppose them. This will of course require a truly sophisticated and nuanced theoretical, strategic, and tactical maturity, depth, understanding, and commitment that goes far beyond mere nitpicking, faultfinding, and masturbatory exercises in service to the false consciousness of "purity", moronic self righteousness, and dogmatic "infallibility" that the U.S. Left in general spends far too much valuable time, energy, and resources stupidly indulging in--especially now that Barack Obama is President.

What we all have to remember is that we have much bigger and far more important fish to fry than merely berating the Obama Administration and other Democratic Party liberals (and neoliberals) for being what and who they are (and are not). So let's all be critically and intelligently engaged at a level of discourse and activism that will actually lead us in a specific and mature direction for once. As always it's up to us...


May 2, 2009

Washington Prepares for Fight Over Any Nominee


WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital geared up Friday for a battle over a Supreme Court vacancy that appeared likely to test President Obama’s success at skirting divisive social issues, with conservative groups saying they viewed the opening created by the retirement of Justice David H. Souter as an opportunity to regroup after a series of political setbacks.

Even as Mr. Souter delivered a letter to the White House formally disclosing his intention to step down at the end of this term, liberal and conservative leaders prepared for another of the intense battles over Supreme Court appointments that have marked the past 20 years in Washington. Mr. Souter — though appointed by a Republican, the first President George Bush — has been a part of the liberal bloc of the court, so Mr. Obama’s appointment is unlikely to shift the ideological makeup of the court.

Mr. Obama, who was president of the Harvard Law Review and taught law at the University of Chicago, praised Mr. Souter’s tenure, and laid out what he was looking for in making a nomination.

“I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook,” Mr. Obama said during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room. “It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.”

That formulation — echoing what Mr. Obama had said while campaigning — stirred concern among conservatives, who said it signaled that the president would nominate an activist judge with an expansive view of the Constitution. Anticipating that line of attack, Mr. Obama also proclaimed that his nominee would be someone “who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.”

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he had urged Mr. Obama to meet with Republicans and Democrats to discuss prospective nominees before making his selection. Mr. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said he intended to have confirmation hearings completed before the court convenes in the first week of October.

Asked whether he expected a reprise of the contentious nomination battles, Mr. Leahy replied: “I would hope not. But lately they have always seemed to be.”

Mr. Obama faces intense pressure to choose a woman for the vacancy, and lesser pressure to pick a black or Hispanic justice. There is only one women on the court now, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who underwent surgery in February for pancreatic cancer.

Among the candidates under consideration — a group that includes white, black and Hispanic judges and lawyers — are Sonia Sotomayor, who sits on the federal appeals court in New York, and Judge Kim M. Wardlaw, who is on the federal appeals court in California. Other leading candidates include Leah Ward Sears, who is the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court; Kathleen M. Sullivan, a professor at the Stanford Law School and former dean there, and Diane P. Wood, a judge on the appellate court based in Chicago.

Mr. Souter, 69, announced the end of his Supreme Court career, which began in October 1990, in a two-sentence note that was devoid of any sentiment. The vacancy leaves the White House facing another big task, at a time when Mr. Obama and Congress have been grappling with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, two wars and a potential flu pandemic. By occupying the Senate and the White House with an ideological battle, the drama of filling a Supreme Court position seemed likely to risk complicating what Mr. Obama had intended to be his major initiative in the months ahead: passing health care legislation.

Supreme Court battles have proved fertile ground for conservative and liberal groups to raise money and rally the troops, and conservatives leaders said they were heartened by the prospect of this fight.

“There could not be a better issue to latch on to for a Republican renaissance to start building on — drawing some distinctions on issues,” said Wendy Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative organization. “I hope for and I expect a fight.”

A coalition of conservative legal activist groups has spent the first months of the Obama administration researching the backgrounds and records of prospective nominees and charting the best ideological line of attack, said Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, one of the conservative groups.

Mr. Levey said the groups now expected Mr. Obama to nominate a candidate who supports abortion rights, and were focusing on other “the issues that are really in play,” like same-sex marriage, gun rights, religious rights and the death penalty, in preparing for the nomination battle.

The conservative groups have agreed to divide up responsibilities for researching potential nominees and have completed about 30 dossiers, he said.

As a senator, Mr. Obama voted against President George W. Bush’s two nominees, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., and backed unsuccessful efforts to filibuster their nominations.

“I trust the president will choose a nominee for the upcoming vacancy based on their experience and even-handed reading of the law, and not their partisan leanings or ability to pass litmus tests,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

Senior White House officials said they had been aware for weeks that Mr. Souter intended to step down at the end of the term. They said preparation for filling a vacancy had begun in the early part of the transition process, and that Mr. Obama had given them a list of names to check even before his inauguration.

On Thursday, before receiving official word from Justice Souter of his intention to step aside, senior White House officials met in the West Wing to begin mapping out a strategy for how to get a nomination through, officials said. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who voted on six Supreme Court nominations during his time in the Senate, will advise Mr. Obama as he makes his choice, aides said, but his role will largely be limited to helping the nominee through the confirmation process.

Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were prepared for this fight and were ready to use the resources of Mr. Obama’s political organization, including its expansive e-mail list, to rally support for whoever he nominates. Liberal groups said they were gearing up not only to fight conservatives but also to make certain Mr. Obama puts forward a liberal choice.

David D. Kirkpatrick, Neil A. Lewis and Charlie Savage contributed reporting.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company