When Barack Obama takes office on January 20, 2009, he faces a number of tough choices with regards to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the troubled economy, but he may also be faced with filing up to three vacancies on the United States Supreme Court. OVC takes a look at what the next four years will look like for the nation's highest court.
The current make up of the Supreme Court is as follows: Chief Justice John Roberts (Age 53, Appointed by G.W. Bush 2005); Justice John Paul Stevens (88, G. Ford 1975); Justice Antonin Scalia (72, R. Reagan 1986); Justice Anthony Kennedy (72, R. Reagan 1988); Justice David Souter (69, G.H.W. Bush 1990); Justice Clarence Thomas (60, G.H.W. Bush 1991); Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (75, W.J. Clinton 1993); Justice Stephen Breyer (70, W.J. Clinton 1994); and Justice Samuel Alito (58, G.W. Bush 2006).
The judicial philosophy of the court is spilt with Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito making up the conservative wing. Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer make up the liberal wing of the court. Kennedy generally sides with the conservatives, but he sometimes crosses over and sides with the liberal wing. Kennedy's philosophy is sometimes confusing, and his vote cannot be relied upon by either side.
The most likely justice to leave is Stevens. He is the longest serving member (33 years) and the oldest justice (88, 89 on April 20, 2009) on the court. He has also evolved into one of the most liberal justices on the court. Appointed to the court by Jerry Ford, Stevens has drifted to the left, and has become a solid member of the liberal wing. OVC expects Stevens to announce his retirement before the beginning of the next term in October, 2009. Stevens is quite comfortable with Obama choosing his successor.
The next most likely member of the court to ride off into the sunset is Ginsburg. Ginsburg is not in the best of health. She underwent surgery for colo-rectal cancer in 1999. Her cancer appears to be in remission, but she has hinted that she would leave the court if a Democrat won the 2008 Presidential election. OVC would not be surprised if Ginsburg announces her retirement at the end of this Supreme Court term in June, 2009.
There have also been rumors that Souter may retire at the end of this term. He is 69 years old, which makes him one of the younger members of the court. His health is good, but it is reported that he never really took to life inside the beltway. Souter may join Stevens and Ginsburg in retirement.
The remaining members of the court will be around for a while. Roberts and Alito are both in their 50s, and have only been on the court for a short time. It would be highly unlikely for either of them to leave the court in the next four or eight years. Scalia and Thomas would never leave during a Democratic administration, so they're not going anywhere. Kennedy is in good health, and we don't see him leaving anytime soon, either.
Here's a list of the potential Obama appointees for the Supreme Court.
(1) Diane Wood (58 years old) -- One of the two or three most often mentioned candidates in the press. Wood was appointed to the federal bench in 1995 by Bill Clinton. It's hard to find a knock on her candidacy. She has nice credentials, is well regarded intellectually, and she is from Chicago. She would certainly be a favorite upon a Ginsburg retirement.
(2) Elena Kagan (48 years old) -- Kagan is the current Dean of Havard Law School (Obama's alma mater) She certainly has the stature, has high level Washington experience, is the perfect age for a long run on the Court, and is respected across the political spectrum for her handling of hiring issues at Harvard. She has no judicial experience, so keep an eye on her if she gets a Court of Appeals appointment early on in Obama's presidency.
(3) Merrick Garland (56 years old)-- Garland was appointed to the D.C. circuit court by Bill Clinton in 1997. The D.C. Circuit is a favorite grooming place for Supreme Court nominees. Garland is also a Harvard law grad.
(4) Cass Sunstein (54 years old) Sunstein is a legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics. Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago for 27 years, where he continues to teach as a Visiting Profesor. Sunstein is currently the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School.
(5) Teresa Wynn Roseborough (50 years old) It is widely anticipated that this African-American former Stevens clerk/Gore lawyer/ACS founder is appointed to the Court of Appeals in the first months of a Democratic Presidency. This would be a sign that Obama may consider her for a vacancy on the supreme court.
(6) Leah Ward Sears (53 years old) The African-American Chief Justice, Georgia Supreme Court is also a possibility. She was the first woman and youngest person to ever serve on the Georgia Supreme Court when she was appointed by then Governor Zell Miller (in the days when he was playing with a full deck.) She has an excellent judicial reputation and record.
(7) Sonia Sotomayor (54 years old) This woman of Puerto Rican descent was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by Bill Clinton in 1998. She is named as a favorite by many pundits for the first nomination.
(8) Deval Patrick (52 years old) The African American Governor of Massachusetts has a close relationship with Obama. He has no judicial experience, but then again, neither did Governor Earl Warren before he was tapped by Eisenhower as Chief Justice.
(9) Eric Holder--Obama has already announced he will nominate Holder as Attorney General, so a Holder appointment may come down later rather than sooner. He has the credentials, including a stint as a judge in DC, and might be an appealing in-house option for a second or third seat. Involvement in the controversial pardon of Mark Rich would be an obvious target for confirmation attacks.
(10) Barrington Parker, Jr. (64 years old) The African American judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals may be a bit old for an appointment, but his name has been mentioned as a possible nominee.