For 27 years a professor at Yale Law School, teaching courses on subjects from intellectual property to the ethics of war, Carter has parlayed personal and professional callings into a singular career in fields of study including affirmative action and the role of civility in American life. After graduation from Yale Law in 1979, Carter served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Skeptics and cynics will certainly jump on the utterly strategic aspect of Obama naming Hill to the high court — so he won’t have to face her again for the presidency, in 2012. But more importantly, Clinton’s formidable résumé; her grasp of international affairs and her presence on that stage; and her knowledge of the working of law and government could place her on a very short list.
A professor at George Washington University Law School, an often-quoted expert on constitutional law and an often-sworn congressional witness on constitutional issues, Turley has the advantage of both judicial and popular credibility. As a frequent commentator on television and in op-ed pieces for leading publications, Turley has a rare intellectual visibility in the culture.
Harold Hongju Koh
Currently Legal Adviser to the State Department, Koh, a Korean-American, pursued an interest in law that took him from Harvard (graduating summa cum laude) to Oxford, from Harvard Law School (cum laude) to service in both the Reagan and Clinton administrations. An expert in international law, national security law and human rights, Koh bears political views that are refreshingly indifferent to the customary pieties.
Like Turley, this Harvard Law School professor and Obama adviser is also frequently quoted on television — but Ogletree’s focus has been to help shape the civic debate on matters of race and ethnicity, especially on issues pertinent to black Americans, including the role of race in death penalty cases, DNA’s role in criminal identification and the thorny issue of reparations.
A former U.S. attorney and Arizona Attorney General, and one of President Obama’s most trusted advisers, Napolitano might be hamstrung by her relatively short period at the helm of Homeland Security, but her grasp of the law’s workings at the federal level, and her knowledge of the farrago of legal issues concerning homeland security from her perspective as a resident of the border state of Arizona may be seen as an advantage.
Leah Ward Sears
Nominating the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice would be a ringing endorsement of progressive principles (and no doubt the cause of a battle royal for Senate confirmation). She’s been a trailblazer for much of her life, from being the first black cheerleader at her high school to the nation’s first African-American female chief justice.
The choice of this prolific author, commentator and constitutional scholar would reflect a certain poetic justice, You could call it a class reunion, of sorts: Among Tribe’s former students are the current Chief Justice, John Roberts and Obama himself (Tribe called the president “the best student I ever had”). Tribe knows the court and its procedures, having argued before the Supremes dozens of times.
The current U.S. solicitor general (the first woman to hold the office) was shortlisted to join the Supremes last year before Sotomayor was confirmed. A Princeton graduate, she clerked in the U.S. appellate court in Washington and for Justice Marshall. She is an ardent champion of free speech rights, and was for five years the Associate Counsel in the Clinton administration before going on to become the first female dean of Harvard Law School.
Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a former University of Chicago law professor, and a former Obama colleague, Sunstein has an expansive knowledge of constitutional law and would bring a blazing intellect to the high court. A legal scholar and author of more than two dozen books whose subjects run from feminism to animal rights, from human cloning to the social impact of the Internet, he combines a knowledge of the law with interests, passions and scholarly pursuits that reflect a panoramically curious intellect.
After dropping several hints over the last few months, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has officially retired from the bench. “There are still pros and cons to be considered,’ Justice John Paul Stevens recently told the New York Times. ”[But] I do have to fish or cut bait, just for my own personal peace of mind and also in fairness to the process. The president and the Senate need plenty of time to fill a vacancy.”
Stevens’ retirement means that President Obama will nominate the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court — a choice he’ll make amid a political atmosphere more charged and partisan now than it was last year, when Sonia Sotomayor was appointed after reactions from the Senate, the public and right-wing radio that went from the mildly controversial to the downright derogatory (remember Rush Limbaugh’s allusions to Sotomayor as a cleaning woman?)
And in media speculation Stevens’ statement has generated, many have overlooked the prospect of President Obama having a third opportunity to name a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2009, said recently that she was “alive and in good health,” but the disease has a historically poor prognosis.
It’s a fact that whoever President Obama nominates to the court will be required to pass a test as fraught with politics as well as a command of the law. Olive branches from ranking Senate Republicans notwithstanding, GOP senators can be expected, as a matter of reflex, to oppose whoever he chooses.
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And Obama’s progressive-left base isn’t a slam-dunk for support, either; liberals and progressives will call on Obama to make a selection that reflects attention to that constituency — important now, vital in 2012. The one and possibly two appointments Obama may make before his first term as president ends give him the opportunity to make his philosophical imprint on the court whose laws impact Americans like no other.
Ten names that come to mind — most of them previously floated on any number of hypothetical short lists — that would offer the president an embarrassment of riches: a range of intellectual and judicial heavyweights reflecting a range of personal perspectives very much like America itself.