Wednesday, May 06, 2009
High stakes fight for Justice Souter's replacement
Last week, Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced that he plans to retire from the Court at the end of this term. The announcement came as something of a surprise. Justice Souter, at 69, is far from the oldest member of the court, and seems in good health. But he has always been unpredictable, as evidenced by his general alignment with the "liberal" wing of the court in spite of his having been nominated by George Bush the Elder.
And so, our country will once again enter the fray over the future we envision. Because, of the three branches of the federal government, there is none that has as much long term influence on our society and our values than the Supreme Court. And everyone knows it.
The stakes are high, obviously. For President Obama and for the Republicans. But more so for the Republicans. Here's why: they are reeling and in disarray. Their base is discouraged to the point of near-apathy. The Republican leadership (such as it is) has not managed to articulate a message other than a shrill "No!" to anything that the president proposes. And they keep losing: on the stimulus package, on the budget, on everything. If they can't find some way to create a perception of a victory, if it seems that the president mows them down without a fight, their base will lose the last of its diminishing faith in them.
But the GOP goes into this battle with some real problems.
Now that Arlen Specter has jumped ship, the senior Republican senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee is Jeff Sessions from Alabama. Sessions was, himself, rejected as a nominee for the federal bench during Reagan's presidency. And given his past remarks about the Ku Klux Klan (he thought they weren't so bad until he found out some of them were pot-smokers) and about the NAACP and the ACLU (he thought they were "Communist-inspired" and "un-American") we can probably imagine that he has ideas about "judicial temperament" that diverge from those of the president. But we can also surmise that any strategy he might concoct for fighting will be forumlated through the prism of a neo-Confederate mindset... not exactly working from a position of strength.
President Obama surely knows all of this. He must know that the GOP will fight tooth-and-nail to defeat whomsoever he may nominate. On the other hand, the president has a lot of political capital and a lot of power over Congress. So, how will he choose to play it?
One name that I've heard mentioned as a potential nominee is Judge Sonia Sotomayor from the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. She has the political advantages of being a woman and an hispanic. (Say what you will about qualifications, when it comes to the Supreme Court, gender and race are the all-important considerations. It's true for Democrats and Republicans.) If the president nominates Sotomayor, Republicans will be put in the position of having to fight against an hispanic woman which is sure to deepen their already huge problems with two very important demographics.
And, in the end, President Obama is going to get his nominee. He's holding all the cards. But the Republicans can't roll over. They have to fight, knowing that they'll lose. Sucks to be them.