The retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens--by far the most consistently progressive and socially responsible figure in the Court over the past 30 years and the acknowledged leader of the minority liberal wing in the Court--is a major political loss for real progressivism on the Court and thus represents a serious challenge and absolute imperative for Obama to aggressively replace him with a genuine liberal/progressive nominee...
Most importantly Obama must be willing to go all the way and FIGHT HARD for him/her when the notorious Republican right inevitably tries to eliminate and destroy the nominee--a process which will of course begin immediately...
If the President doesn't have the vision and guts to do so we will all live to regret it bigtime...
Retirement of Justice Stevens Is Political Test for Obama
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Charlie Savage
New York Times
WASHINGTON — The announcement by Justice John Paul Stevens on Friday that he would retire at the end of this term gives President Obama the rare opportunity to make back-to-back appointments to the Supreme Court during the first two years of his presidency.
But it also presents Mr. Obama with a complex political challenge: getting a nominee confirmed in the thick of a midterm election season, when Republicans, fueled by the intensity of their conservative base, are angling to knock him down, and Democrats, despite having lost their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, are eager to flex their muscles after passing a landmark health care bill.
Justice Stevens’s announcement, delivered to the White House on Friday morning in a one-paragraph letter that began “My dear Mr. President,” set off an immediate scramble among the parties and a raft of advocacy groups that have been assembling dossiers on potential successors.
The three leading candidates — Mr. Obama is considering about 10 names all told, the White House says — present the president with a spectrum of ideological reputations, government backgrounds and life experiences. His choice will shape the battle to win Senate confirmation of his nominee.
In effect, the president must choose to be bold or play it safe.
Merrick B. Garland, 58, an appeals court judge here, is well liked by elite legal advocates and is widely considered the safest choice if Mr. Obama wants to avoid a confrontation with the minority party. A former federal prosecutor who worked on the Oklahoma City bombings, he is well-known in Washington’s legal-political community, where some view him as a kind of Democratic version of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Elena Kagan, 49, is solicitor general but has never been a judge and does not have a lengthy trail of scholarly writings, so her views are less well documented. But as the dean of Harvard Law School, she earned respect across ideological lines by bringing in several high-profile conservative professors, and she is a favorite among some in the extended Obama circle, who see her as smart and capable. Her relative youth means she could shape the court for decades to come.
Diane P. Wood, 59, a federal appeals court judge in Mr. Obama’s home city, Chicago, is seen as the most liberal of the three. She has been a progressive voice on a court that is home to several heavyweight conservative intellectuals. As a divorced mother of three, she brings the kind of real-life experience that Mr. Obama considers important. But her strong support for abortion rights would provoke a confrontation with conservatives. On Friday, the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life warned that a Wood nomination “would return the abortion wars to the Supreme Court.”
In making his selection, Mr. Obama confronts a vastly altered political landscape from the one he faced just 11 months ago, when he nominated Sonia Sotomayor to fill the seat left vacant by the retirement of Justice David H. Souter.
With the election of Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, Democrats can no longer hold off a Republican filibuster. And while Democrats are emboldened by the health care vote, the passage of the legislation — which is already facing legal challenges from Republicans who say it is unconstitutional — has left the Senate more polarized than ever and created a climate in which the courts could easily become an election issue.
For the court, Justice Stevens’s departure will be the end of an era. He is the longest-serving justice by more than a decade, and he is the last remaining justice to have served in World War II. (He joined the Navy, where he served as a cryptographer, the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked.) His leaving will not, however, change the composition of the court; although he was appointed in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford, a Republican, he has become one of its most reliably liberal members during his nearly 35-year tenure, as the court drifted ever rightward.
Still, for Mr. Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago (where he was a colleague of Judge Wood), the vacancy is an unmistakable chance to put his stamp on the direction the court takes for the next several decades. Mr. Obama is already engaged in an unusual public confrontation with the court over its recent decision in the Citizens United case, which lifted strict limits on corporate spending in elections. On Friday, during a brief appearance in the Rose Garden, he made clear that the case was very much on his mind.
He vowed to “move quickly” in announcing a nominee. Senior advisers said they expected a decision within the next several weeks. The president said he would look for a candidate who possessed what he described as qualities similar to that of Justice Stevens: “an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”
And, in what legal scholars took as a clear swipe at the Citizens United decision (for which Justice Stevens wrote the dissent), the president said he would look for a justice who “knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
The White House already has a Supreme Court nomination team in place, with the selection process run by the new White House counsel, Robert F. Bauer, and overseen by Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff. Once a nominee is picked, Mr. Bauer’s wife, Anita Dunn, who is Mr. Obama’s former communications director, will coordinate with advocacy groups. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during some of its most contentious confirmation fights, is also likely to play a crucial role.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview that Justice Stevens told him privately several weeks ago of his intentions. Mr. Leahy said he had had “long conversations” with the president and wanted a vote before the August recess so that a new justice could be installed by the start of the fall term.
“When I was the most junior Democrat in the Senate, I voted for John Paul Stevens,” Mr. Leahy said. “He was a Republican nominated by a Republican president who was going to be up for election, and we voted for him, and proudly.”
That kind of bipartisanship is highly unlikely this time. While both sides agree that Republicans are unlikely to use a filibuster to block a Supreme Court nominee, conservatives will at the very least use the debate to make the case for Republican candidates. They say they will calibrate their fight to how liberal they perceive Mr. Obama’s choice to be.
“If it’s someone like Merrick Garland, I don’t think there’s going to be a big fight,” said Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, a conservative advocacy group. But Mr. Levey said a more liberal nominee, like Judge Wood, would “be a field day for the conservative groups.”
But leaders of liberal groups, like Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, are suspicious of conservative assurances that a more centrist nominee would face little opposition. They note that Justice Sotomayor was perceived by many on the left as far more centrist than they would have preferred, and yet Republicans portrayed her as a “judicial activist,” and 31 voted against her.
“No matter who he sends up,” Ms. Aron said, “I think Republicans are loaded for bear and will oppose.”
Democrats were divided Friday over whether Mr. Obama would pick a fight with Republicans or shrink from one. But Walter E. Dellinger III, who was acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton, predicted passion, as much as politics, would play a role in Mr. Obama’s decision.
“I think that in choosing a Supreme Court justice,” Mr. Dellinger said, “the president is less likely to compromise and more likely to go with his heart than on any other matter.”
Peter Baker contributed reporting.