To many Americans the nine justices of the Supreme Court are just black robes. We see them occasionally at the State of the Union Address and maybe, if you pay attention, at presidential inaugurations when the Chief Justice administers the oath of office. Other than these sightings, the justices of the third branch of our government might as well be invisible.
But in the coming weeks and months attention will again be centered on the Supreme Court as Barack Obama gets to nominate a new justice to our nation’s highest court because 89 year old Justice John Paul Stevens is walking away from a lifetime job. These nine black robes might be invisible, but they enjoy lifetime employment- not a bad deal.
Because we are living in a time of constant debate and division, it is likely that the process of nominating a successor to Justice Stevens will be contentious, as Republicans seek to paint the choice of President Obama as a secret liberal partisan who will continue abortion rights, maintain affirmative action programs, and support the right of government to intervene in the economy. Justice Stevens may be leaving the bench, but President Obama is certain to nominate a clone to the retiring judge to become the next Supreme Court judge; someone who will champion liberal values and goals.
Justice Stevens didn’t start out to be a liberal standard bearer when Republican President Gerald Ford appointed him in the 1970s, but over time Stevens became an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, flag burning, corporate spending on campaigns, and legal mistreatment of alleged terrorists held at Camp Delta in Cuba. Liberals could always count on Stevens to needle the conservatives on the Court who were too quick to support the status quo or advance the interests of the powerful.
Barack Obama,despite all the name calling that has branded him a radical, is not going to go off the reservation and nominate a justice to the Court who does not hold mainstream values and beliefs. But count on the Republicans to do all in the power to convince Americans that the person chosen is a closet fringe liberal who will take American further down the road to socialism and secularism.
If the pick of Obama is a clone of Justice Stevens that will mean the Supreme Court will have an important voice for average Americans and for American values of honesty, decency, equality and community. What could possible be wrong with that?