This is going to make for an interesting summer.
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010; 11:19 AM
Justice John Paul Stevens, the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court and the leader of its liberal wing, announced his retirement Friday, giving President Obama his second chance to make a mark on the nation's highest court. Stevens, who will turn 90 on April 20, said in a letter to "My dear Mr. President" that he will leave the court at the conclusion of the current term at the end of June. Stevens said he was announcing his retirement now so that the president would have time to make a nomination and the Senate to confirm in time for the start of the court's new term next October.
A senior administration official confirmed that Stevens informed the White House that he will step down this summer. Obama was notified of Stevens's decision while traveling on Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Prague, a White House aide said.
Stevens was appointed by President Gerald R. Ford and joined the court on Dec. 19, 1975.
His retirement is not a surprise, and the White House has been preparing for another opening. Aides and Democrats close to the process named three people as likely front-runners for the job: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whom Obama appointed as the first woman to hold the post, and two appellate court judges, Diane Wood of Chicago and Merrick Garland of Washington. [...] Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, [...] whose committee will conduct confirmation hearings for Stevens's replacement, urged senators of both parties to "make this process a thoughtful and civil discourse" and to "give fair and thorough consideration to Justice Stevens' successor."
"A thoughtful and civil discourse". Over a Supreme Court justice replacement. In this lunkheaded, spineless Congress. Headed into the political silly season, when there will be all sorts of rhetorical points to be scored by railing against whoever Obama selects, or railing against those who rail against the selection.
Pardon me; I'll just be over in the corner, laughing myself sick until I cry at the very notion that our current politicians are even capable of "thoughtful and civil discourse."
The selection and confirmation process will be interesting -- in the Chinese curse sense of "interesting". It will be "interesting", for example, to see what sort of justice Obama picks to replace this liberal lion. (Basically, there's Stevens, there's Ginsburg, there's Breyer -- sort of -- and that's about it for the liberal wing these days.) And it will be "interesting", in what I suspect will be an intensely unpleasant sort of way, to see what it's like to have a genuinely conservative court, which we haven't had during my lifetime. (Kennedy plays a pivot point between liberal and conservative now, when the court is divided 4-4 between the conservative and liberal/moderate wing. Once Stevens is replaced by a more conservative justice, Kennedy is no longer the balance point; there simply won't be one.) After all, anyone who thinks that Obama would choose a genuine liberal to replace a genuine liberal hasn't been paying even the slightest attention. For all that conservatives go after his liberality, he really, genuinely isn't one. He's a centrist moderate, he keeps telling us that he's a centrist moderate, with the occasional meaningless liberal flourish. Just enough for liberals and moderates to hope that he does something that they'll actually, you know, like. But I promise you, the best thing we'll be able to say about this next appointment, from a liberal point of view, will be "Well, it could be worse." (There's also the question of whether he might nominate someone genuinely very liberal as a sacrificial lamb, so that when the nomination gets withdrawn because the nominee gets tired of being used as a brickbat, he can do someone perhaps a bit more liberal than he might otherwise have gotten away with. That would be a terribly risky strategy, however, since there's every chance that conservatives would then decide that their best and strongest campaign strategy would be to block all nominations, and then to condemn the president and the Democrats for not nominating someone more "acceptable."
As I say, it's going to be an "interesting' summer.Posted by iain at April 09, 2010 10:44 AM