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City of Brass

City of Brass

The Specter of Souter’s retirement

The news just broke last night that Supreme Court Justice David Souter will retire. Souter was appointed by George HW Bush and proceeded to drive conservatives insane by refusing to bend to the right-wing agenda. Instead he has been what I consider a moderate voice on the court, though in general he has voted along with the liberal bloc. He was not as unpredictable as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was, for example.

Naturally this gives President Obama an opportunity to leave his mark by appointing a judge early on in his term – and thanks to Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch a few days ago, the Republicans are in a uniquely powerless position to interfere with Obama’s selection.

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Unfortunately, this golden opportunity is kind of wasted, since Souter was already a member of the liberal bloc on the Court, so any pick Obama is likely to make probably won’t vote much differently than Souter would have, on average. A real coup would have been for a conservative justice to be retiring, which would then allow Obama to shift the balance of power, something that President Bush was never able to achieve despite having two opportunities to appoint new justices.

Still, if Obama picks a woman justice (as is being rumoured) then there still will be a shift in perspective in the Court – the decisions that SCOTUS renders are important not just for the end result but also for the opinions and dissents therein, and a female voice in all of that will be a good thing. Since Justice O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the Court, and after her retirement was replaced by another male (Justice Alito), there’s an opportunity here to bring some of that balance back. Plus, she was of an earlier generation, so Obama’s hypothetical female Justice pick would probably be someone younger for whom the equal rights battles of the Sixties are history rather than experience. So we can assume that the replacement would be more, ahem, militant in some respects when it comes to womens’ issues. I think that is fantastic; of course the Republicans are going to freak out accordingly.

Overall, President Obama has a chance to influence the Court in a more subtle, yet nevertheless profound, way. Let’s hope he doesn’t botch it and pull a Harriet Miers…

  • KatieAngel

    Given how President Obama has handled thing so far, I think he will probably do well. He seems to be a pragmatist and unlikely to nominate someone simply because he or she is a friend.

  • Someone Concerned

    And Bush’s agenda wasn’t sick?… Why then are we in the economic CRISIS that we are in then?????? Guess that was caused by President Obama in his first 100 days, right? And what mosques has President Obama built? Haven’t heard about those… It’s OK for Bush to spend TRILLIONS of dollars trying to FORCE a non-Christian country to live by Christian standards, but it’s not OK for President Obama to spend money to fix the economic crisis? Lastly, the entire Muslim population was blamed for the act of a few who call themselves Muslim. Tell me, why wasn’t the entire Christian population blamed for the act of Timothy McVey — a Christian who bombed a building and killed many many people including innocent children at play in daycare. Yes, our tax dollars should be going to help the widow, the poor, and the lame. Not keeping a killer alive (McVey), feeding him 3 times a day when MUCH of this world doesn’t have money to feed themselves ONE time a day, and giving him a warm dry decent place to sleep every night…

  • tkm

    Its about time a muslim is appointed as chief justice.

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