Liberal should be chosen to replace Stevens


Republican senators couldn’t bother to wait to hear the name of President Obama’s next nominee to the Supreme Court before they threatened to block the candidate.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who turns 90 next week, announced Friday that he will retire this summer. Even before Stevens confirmed his decision, the prospect of another court vacancy during Obama’s term was giving GOP lawmakers fits.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, wouldn’t rule out a filibuster of the future nominee. “It will all depend on what kind of a person it is,” Kyl said. The “test,” he said, will be whether the nominee is “overly ideological.” That’s in the view of Republicans who have tried to block nearly everything Obama does. We can’t wait to see their definition of “overly.”
Kyl’s verbal warning shot illustrates the concerns of Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), who believes partisan gridlock could lead to a GOP filibuster of virtually any Supreme Court nominee in this election year. Specter went so far as to write to Stevens, urging him not to step down. He had hoped the climate in the Senate would be less poisonous next year.
It’s not hard to follow the Senate Republicans’ reasoning. They’re convinced the path to electoral success in November is to stop Obama at every turn. And their base hasn’t forgiven them for failing to block last year’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the court.
The thought of two consecutive Obama-appointed justices, no matter their qualifications, seems to be too much for them to bear. It probably won’t do any good to remind the Senate GOP that even a presumed liberal nominee will not change the political balance on the court. Stevens consistently votes with the court’s four-member liberal minority.
Ironically, Stevens, a former antitrust attorney from Chicago, was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975. Over time, he emerged as the leading liberal voice on a court that has shifted to the right. Stevens was guided by his Midwestern values and moral clarity. He wrote the majority opinion that repudiated the Bush administration’s plan to hold military trials for terror suspects. His upholding of the Rule of Law for everyone will be missed.
But Senate Republicans should rest easy, knowing that replacing one liberal justice won’t slow the judicial activism of the court led by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. Neither did Sotomayor’s replacement of Justice David Souter prevent Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito from ignoring their promises to respect and follow court precedent.
This Editorial Board endorsed both Roberts and Alito when President Bush nominated them. Mulligans are not permitted in these matters. Our endorsements were based on the view that both candidates were experienced, qualified jurists and that a president should be given broad deference in nominations.
Probably Senator Kyl does not consider either Alito or Roberts “overly ideological,” all indications to the contrary. Ironically, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said they will scrutinize Obama’s nominee for “judicial restraint.” But President Obama is entitled to his nominees, too, barring evidence of extremist views. Even though few expect Senate Republicans to keep an open mind, they should at least put on a public face of trying to do so.