Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, announced on April 9, 2010 that he will retire in late June or early July, 2010. His announcement came 11 days before his 90th birthday. Stevens, a Republican-nominated justice, emerged as a leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing over his 34-year tenure.
Although this will be the second time President Obama will fill a SCOTUS opening, it is hardly worthy of all the posturing and filibuster threats that have come from Republicans because the new Justice will not change much in the Supreme Court. We can all safely assume that the President will nominate a reliable liberal. Currently, there are 5 Republican-appointed, conservative Justices on the Supreme Court. There are and 4 liberal Justices. Therefore, replacing Justice Stevens (a liberal Justice) with another liberal Justice is not enough to shift the balance and have a major impact on the decisions which tend to go down party lines.
So who will the President nominate to fill the Stevens vacancy? Four names are being floated around. They are Judge Merrick B. Garland, Judge Diane P. Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Sec. Janet Napolitano. Although these contenders have excellent backgrounds and stellar qualifications, based on his own words, it seems highly unlikely that the President will nominate any of them.
Let’s examine his words when he announced Stevens’ retirement. “I will move quickly to name a nominee,” President Obama said. He promised to seek someone “with an independent mind; a record of excellence and integrity; fierce dedication to the rule of law . . . a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people . . . who knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
The President is looking for someone with a record of excellence and a fierce dedication to the rule of law. This means that the President will likely select someone who has substantial judicial experience. The President knows that a judge’s body of work is the best indicator of how that judge will rule in the future on important issues.
The President also said that the nominee will know the voice of “ordinary” citizens. This indicates that the President probably will not nominate someone who has led a life of wealth, privilege or political connection. Instead, by his words, the President seems to indicate that he will seek someone who has a family (maybe children), lives on ‘Main Street,’ knows the daily grind of going to work, picking up the kids after work, fixing dinner, and paying the bills at the kitchen table. For these reasons, it seems unlikely that the President will nominate either General Elena Kagan or Janet Napolitano.
What else can we predict about the nominee? Although it does not appear that the gender or race of the nominee are of paramount importance to the President, the age of the nominee probably is. The President knows that this is an important piece of his legacy which will continue to impact the lives of Americans for many years after his Presidency ends. Therefore, the person nominated will most probably be between the ages of 40 and 55. This will ensure approximately 30 to 40 years of service (health permitting). For this reason, it’s unlikely that the President will nominate Judge Diane P. Wood (59 years old) or Judge Merrick B. Garland (57 years old).
Term limits for Supreme Court Justices?