Outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens lacks the class of former Justice Byron White. That latter jurist, appointed to the Supreme Court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, waited until another Democrat took office to retire. Even though he had become one of the court’s most conservative members, he thought that he owed it to his party. Stevens, by contrast, although appointed by a Republican, is perhaps the most liberal member of the current court.
All that said, there is no requirement that a member of the U.S. Supreme Court keep the seat in his party, but that is something to keep in mind.
In the long term, his retirement helps the Democrats and their liberal ideology. In the short term, it helps the GOP. I say this because I’m assuming based on Obama’s record in office that he will tap a liberal justice to replace the outgoing Justice. Perhaps, he’ll appoint someone like Pam Karlan, to the left in judicial matters, to be sure, but possessing a fine intellect. Her presence on the bench would elevate the debates. And her skill as a writer plus her wit would make court opinions, hers at least, well worth reading.
You see, by appointing a liberal to the bench, especially so close to the 2010 elections when so many vulnerable Democrats are up for reelection, he forces them to vote on a nominee who will likely be in step with the West Wing crowd, but out of step with the American people.
Via Glenn Reynolds, we get this “understatement” from Doug Mataconis: “Given the political climate, the fact that this is an election year, and the record we already have from the Sotomayor hearings last year, I think we can expect that this will be a very politically charged nomination process.”