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.
WATCH ‘HARDBALL’ COVERAGE OF OBAMA’S POTENTIAL SUPREME COURT PICKS HERE:
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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.