Ideological Parsing Begins For Expected Court Vacancy


With Justice John Paul Stevens on the verge of his 89th birthday, handicapping has begun on President Obama’s choices for the Supreme Court. As the New York Times put it, a vacancy “will present the new president with a question. Should he appoint someone who by historical standards is a full-throated liberal, a lion like Justice William J. Brennan Jr. or Justice Thurgood Marshall? Or should he follow the lead of President Bill Clinton, whose two appointees, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, are by those standards relative moderates?”

The vacancies that are likely to open up in the early years of the Obama presidency will, if the conventional wisdom holds, arise from the retirements of one or more of the court's liberals – Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg or Justice David H. Souter. If that is so, Mr. Obama will not be able to put a new liberal vote on the court. But he can, if he wants to, add a big liberal voice. “A really powerful, articulate, moral, passionate voice on the left,” said Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, “would really change the dynamic on the court. It would pull the other justices who are inclined to be sympathetic to that voice in that direction. It would shift the center of the discussion – about what's the middle.”

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