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Supreme Court Suggestions: A letter to President Obama

Mr. President,

Since you received a letter from Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Friday announcing his retirement from the high court, much ado has been made over whom you will nominate as his replacement.

Senate Republicans have warned you that they will utilize the procedural roadblock known as the filibuster to prevent a confirmation vote on any nominee they consider too liberal.

Though a group of centrist Republican and Democratic senators agreed in 2005 not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said recently on “Fox News Sunday,” “If the president picks someone from the fringe instead of from the middle, or if he picks someone who will apply their feelings instead of applying the law, then that might be an extraordinary case.”

Faced with such threats, you may be tempted to play it safe, and to replace the outgoing justice with someone uninteresting enough to slip through Republican opposition unscathed. Mr. President, this would be a mistake.

This is a huge opportunity for you to further your presidential legacy. The selection of a Supreme Court justice is an important one, because when you change one member of the court, you change the whole court.

Might I make a suggestion?

Mr. President, don’t listen to the naysayers who will whine about your nominee’s “lack of experience.” Lack of experience is a benefit. Choose someone outside the system, someone that hasn’t spent his or her lifetime in robes and hasn’t become jaded by a dreary and monotonous career applying precedent in inconsequential court battles.

It’s rarely done; the last time the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court justice without judicial experience was in 1971, when it approved the nomination of a little guy named William Rehnquist — a man who later became Chief Justice and led one of the most active courts in American history.

Mr. President, abstain from nominating a justice who will further your liberal agenda and bring ire from the opposition. We already deal with enough belligerences and bickering between the parties. Choose someone that will take into consideration not only political ideology, but will balance the law with his or her own views as well as the will of Americans.

Consider, Mr. President, Justice Stevens’ evolution since his nomination by President Gerald Ford to the court in 1975. He had a record as a centrist appellate judge, but took conservative positions on a number of issues, including affirmative action. In time, his evolving political views led Justice Stevens to become the leader of the court’s liberal wing, to the believed disdain of conservatives and the president who nominated him.

However, Stevens always maintained a record of being on the side of justice and fairness, prompting President Ford to write in 2005, “I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination 30 years ago of John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Mr. President, let this be your goal in deciding your nominee. Choose not someone who will further your political goals, but someone who, when he or she eventually retires from the court, you — and we — can be proud of.

Zach is still holding out hope for his nomination. Tell him how good “Justice Fowle” sounds at

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