President Obama said Friday he will look beyond traditional legal experience to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter — to someone who can relate to average Americans.
Putting another challenge on his already crowded desk, Mr. Obama said he wants to have a replacement sworn in by October. But his goal of a nominee with “empathy” has already sparked a battle with Republicans and others who say the Supreme Court should concern itself with judicial philosophy, not social outcomes.
“I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation,” Mr. Obama said.
Still, he also said he will look for someone who “who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.”
While news of his intended resignation broke late Thursday, Justice Souter sent a message to Mr. Obama Friday saying he intends for it to become effective when the court finishes issuing opinions this summer. The court finished with oral arguments this week.
Nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, Justice Souter resigns with a reputation of having been a reliably liberal but unremarkable vote on the court.
• See related story: Souter’s rulings not always predictable
Liberal interest groups said in replacing him, Mr. Obama must push for a judge who will look beyond the letter of the law to consider race, and vulnerability.
“He made the Supreme Court a major feature of his campaign and won a strong mandate in November. He has expanded upon his mandate in his first 100 days and should now make a bold choice for the Supreme Court,” said People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan.
Many court watchers also predict Mr. Obama will nominate either a woman or minority to add diversity to the court. Among the names law scholars say are contenders are U.S. solicitor general Elena Kagan, the former dean at Harvard Law School, appeals court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Kim McLane Wardlaw, and Harold Hongju Koh, a former dean of Yale University Law School.
Conservative and pro-life groups, however, have vowed a fight, and said they will put pressure on moderate Democratic senators not to accept a liberal justice.
“The next Supreme Court nominee must be asked whether they share the president’s decidedly activist view that judges should consider not just the law and facts, but also empathy for certain classes of people, including African-Americans, the poor, gays, and the disabled,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which fights for conservative judges.
He sent a memo challenging Republican senators: “Do not roll over.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Republicans will make sure the nominee is “thoroughly reviewed.”
“A Supreme Court nominee needs to be able to fulfill the judicial oath of applying the law without prejudice, and not decide cases based on their feelings or personal politics,” Mr. McConnell said.View Entire Story
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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