January 20, 2010

More Thoughts on Brown's Effect on Judicial Nominees

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUS Blog:
And the next ten months, of course, is the time span during which a Supreme Court vacancy may well occur. If bipartisanship has any meaning any longer in the Senate, perhaps the President could find nominees who may have some appeal with moderate Republicans. That almost certainly would translate as nominees decidedly more moderate in their views than the President’s first choice for the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has taken a place comfortably in the Court’s liberal wing. It might even be doubtful that a nominee with views aligned closely with those of Justice Stevens could get confirmed.

Ilya Shapiro at CATO isn't sure it changes all that much:
Here’s why: Despite having been a constitutional law professor — whom I did not have when I was in law school, though I passed him in the halls a few times — the president has not really tried to advance his ideological agenda in the courts. It’s bizarre, really, that judicial nominations have not at all been a priority for this administration given that few people pay attention to lower court appointments and this could have been a place where the president could have thrown some bones to his base at little political cost (and certainly far less cost than the rest of his domestic agenda).

Moreover, based on the Sotomayor nomination, we see that when it comes to the Supreme Court, Obama is much more about affirmative action than appointing either the best-qualified Democrats or the most ”progressive” ones (or both, to provide a counterweight to Justice Scalia). (Note that Sotomayor at the time of her nomination was nowhere near the best or most left-wing member of the federal judiciary.) Even with a filibuster-proof Senate majority, we would have been unlikely to see a Cass Sunstein or Harold Koh pick — though each took not insignificant heat and delay in being confirmed to regulatory czar and head State Department lawyer, respectively. (And Larry Tribe is too old.)

With Sonia Sotomayor, Obama hit the “twofer” of a woman and a Hispanic (the first unless you count Benjamin Cardozo). With the Stevens replacement, women and minorities are still slightly preferred but the key “diversity” quota to fill is “non-judge” — and, per the above, a non-controversial one on whom the president won’t have to spend much political capital.