Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Will Obama name a progressive nominee for the Supreme Court?

This sounds very promising:

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person's ideological leanings, and in some ways "that realization is liberating for the president" to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC.

In comments that are at odds with the conventional wisdom about what Obama needs to do to make sure the Senate confirms his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, a White House official involved in the confirmation process tells TPMDC that the President isn't taking a cautious approach to selecting a nominee. Despite having one less Democrat in the Senate than when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last year, the administration isn't limiting itself to reviewing only centrist candidates for the court vacancy, the official said.

"It doesn't matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big 'ol fight over it. So he doesn't have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns," the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct "anything of consequence" put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. "The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right," the official added.

That's exactly right -- and I hope it accurately reflects Obama's thinking. Particularly since health-care reform passed, the Republicans are in no mood to compromise, and they'll engage in a vicious campaign to defeat, or at least to smear mercilessly, any nominee, even a relatively moderate one. Of course, much of that effort will come from outside the Senate, where propagandizing conservatives portray Obama's generally centrist policy agenda as a radical socialist overturning of everything American, and one can expect Republican senators, on the whole, to be somewhat more respectful, if not deferential, even if, on the whole, they are more extreme in ideological terms than they once were, but the 41 Republicans in the Senate aren't about to give any nominee a free pass. With all that is at stake in replacing Stevens, they have a lot to fight for, and it would take Obama selecting a Republican to keep them from waging a full-scale political battle. If nothing else, they need to keep their base angry and motivated heading into November.

All of which is to say that Obama should pick the person whom he thinks is best for the job, not try to appeal to Republicans with a less desirable (because less liberal, less progressive) nominee. He's done the bipartisan thing, after all, and look where it got him. In the end, Democrats had to go it alone on health-care reform, just as they're having to go it alone on Wall Street reform, and while I think it has made sense for him to appear to seek Republican support, and perhaps even to be sincere about it, he seems to have learned a valuable lesson here. I have always thought that Obama knows full well how the game is played and that his bipartisan efforts, however sincere, were framed by a sound understanding of how Republicans operate. He could let them turn him down, after all, which has only made them look bad, and, in rejecting his efforts, they have revealed what they really are, which is a party of procedural obstructionists and ideological extremists. And he may let them do the same here by nominating a widely respected jurist whom they will look bad in opposing.

But now is not the time for caution, or at least not caution at the expense of picking the best person, and there is no need, it seems to me, to let Republicans have any influence, even indirectly, over who is nominated. Yes, they can filibuster, but they might not have the votes, given that Obama will likely nominate someone who is at least somewhat appealing to the few Republican moderates in the Senate, and, besides, a judicial filibuster would likely be unpopular. Just let the Republicans do it. Let them have to defend their opposition to a solid nominee. They'd only end up looking even worse than they do now. All the more reason for Obama to pick whomever he pleases.

It's not that Obama finally gets it, because I think he's gotten it all along, it's that, if this anonymous "official" is to be believed, he's finally getting over his bipartisan inclinations and finally going to try to get his own way by being truer to his liberal-progressive self.

Or is he? I realize that the White House is floating this for a reason, and that reason may be to try to convince his liberal-progressive base that he's taking its interests seriously and that he's seriously considering selecting a non-centrist nominee. In other words, this may all be for show, so that when he nominates a Republican-like centrist, which is quite probable given his inclinations, he'll be able to say that he considered a wide range of candidates and that this particular centrist is the best choice even if he or she is really just his own ideological preference.

For now, I suppose I'm still willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he really will nominate an admirably progressive jurist. Perhaps he really will tell the Republicans to shove it, more or less, and perhaps he really will finally do what needs to be done without reaching across the aisle to a party that has no interest helping him or supporting him in any way. But let's not delude ourselves into thinking that he's turned a corner and that, going forward, all will be as it should have been all along. Let's see who the nominee is, and perhaps then we can get a better sense of just where his priorities are.

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  • I'm not really one who would want a progressive nominee but if I were advising Obama that is just what I would suggest.

    This is the best shot he's gonna have at a liberal nominee, after 2010 the GOP is going to have more seats.

    In addition this is liberal replacing liberal, he won't have that luxury if Kennedy quits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:22 PM  

  • Agreed, it makes no sense to accomodate the party of "no" as they will undoubtedly continue the "no" dynamic regardless. Obama should pick a qualified candidate who would help balance the current reactionary leaning USSC.

    By Anonymous JSpencer, at 6:25 PM  

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