In 2005, then Illinois Senator Barack Obama was unequivocal. He said he wanted a Supreme Court justice with a heart. By that he meant someone who was not just a top legal scholar and rendered flawless legal opinions rulings, but who had real compassion for the needs and suffering of people. In a fiery senate floor speech on September 22 that year Obama hammered Bush's high court pick John G. Roberts as being dismissive and insensitive to race and gender discrimination.
Four months later Obama went on the attack again. He lambasted Bush's next high court pick Samuel A. Alito as a shill for the powerful and uncaring about the rights and protections of the powerless, poor and minorities. He slammed Alito for backing prosecutors over the rights of defendants. He felt so strongly that Alito was not the right sort for the court that he joined in a futile and short lived filibuster against him.
He didn't stop there. At a presidential campaign appearance in 2007 he said: "We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize, the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old." There was that reference to heart again.
Obama wanted and expected a Supreme Court justice to be a guardian of the people's interests, to be cut squarely in the proud tradition of Hugo Black, Thurgood Marshall, Earl Warren, and yes, on his best days John Paul Stevens. Obama saw absolutely nothing wrong with a justice being a legal scholar, judicial expert and an activist. He firmly rejected the GOP's and conservative judicial watchdog group's phony, politically self-serving strict constitutional constructionist litmus test for judges. Court ultra conservatives Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and William Rehnquist were unabashed judicial activists and ideologues, and conservatives heap praise on them, and abuse on any jurist that doesn't agree with them.
Four years later and a second Supreme Court judge pick in the waiting, nothing has changed. And since it hasn't, Obama has the enviable chance of a president's lifetime to do what he proclaimed in his attacks on and senate votes against confirming Alito and Roberts. That's the chance to follow his heart and pick the kind of judge he made clear that both Bush picks weren't and pick a judge who will protect the rights of the powerless, minorities, and women. He has absolutely nothing to lose. GOP senators, Tea Party leaders, Rush Limbaugh, the pack of shrill rightwing radio talk jocks, Fox News Network, and the hodge-podge of conservative judicial watchdog groups will stick to their hit plan on him no matter who he picks to replace Stevens.
His pick will be too liberal, too activist, too pro victim's rights, affirmative action, civil liberties, and for the more rabid, a closet identity politics baiter. The GOP tactics in pounding Obama's pick is unchanged. They will scream, shout, bully, cow, and badger the court pick on the same tired hit points. The goal is unchanged and that's to insure that she or he toes the conservative legal constructionist line not solely before the Senate Judiciary panel, but more importantly on the bench.
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