Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has made it official; he is retiring at the end of this term. I think the following excerpt makes it clear how important it is that Obama fight for a liberal replacement.
“I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told me during a recent interview in his chambers, laughing and shaking his head. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” Stevens said that his views haven’t changed since 1975, when as a moderate Republican he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Supreme Court. Stevens’s judicial hero is Potter Stewart, the Republican centrist, whom Stevens has said he admires more than all of the other justices with whom he has served. He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues. “Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”
The three names currently in the mix are solicitor general Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood (7th Cir.) and Judge Merrick Garland (D.C. Cir.). The Republicans would not fight Garland, as they see him as the most acceptable possibility. But none of these judges are ideologically as far left as Stevens. I’ve looked at all the judges who are currently serving on the circuit/appeals courts, and there aren’t really any alternatives who are the right age. So, if Obama wants to replace Stevens with someone equally liberal, he’ll have to look at law schools or at politicians or somewhere else.
As a kind of side note, I am aware of my privileged position as a white protestant-raised man in this society, but if Stevens is not replaced with a protestant, there will be no protestants on the Court. Somehow, I don’t think that’s right. It’s perfectly acceptable for people from other ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds to openly advocate for representation on the Court, and I know very well that for more than a century that protestant men were (with one exception) the only people on the Court. I wouldn’t even bring the subject up except that having no protestants on the Court in a country that is still protestant-majority seems a bit of an overcompensation. It’s not like I’ll be heartbroken or anything if someone else is picked, but I think it’s something worthy of consideration. The Court should resemble the country as a whole, which is why it has been important to nominate women and Catholics and blacks and latinos.