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The Supreme Court selection game

BY GRETA HAGEN-RICHARDSON | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

The recent announcement that 89-year-old Associate Justice John Paul Stevens will retire from the Supreme Court this summer has launched fevered talks of who his successor — and President Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee — might be. The short list of contenders contains a fairly diverse set of men and women, with Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appeals court Judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood at the top.

Of those three, Wood would be the best selection.

When considering who should be nominated, it becomes apparent that one must define the Supreme Court’s “mission statement.” The Constitution states that the “judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” In other words, the Supreme Court is charged with determining laws and actions’ constitutionality, and its decisions are the final word (unless the Supreme Court later chooses to overturn its precedent or Congress passes and three-fourths of the state legislatures ratify a constitutional amendment).

Obama outlined his guidelines for selecting a justice in a C-SPAN interview last May: “What I want is not just ivory-tower learning,” he said. “I want somebody who has the intellectual fire power but also a little bit of a common touch and has a practical sense of how the world works.” He also said, “Those criteria of common sense, practicality, a sense of what ordinary Americans are going through every day — putting that in the mix, when the judges are looking at cases before them, it’s very important.”

Taking into account that statement, it might be reasoned that the Supreme Court is also considered by many to be a tool for social change. In a country where majority rules (for the most part), I think that it is important to have a system in place that examines whether the laws in place are actually protecting the rights of all Americans, including minorities.

Wood’s record demonstrates her ability to fight for the “little guy or girl,” with decisions that have looked at protecting individual rights. Additionally, she would be the only Protestant (Stevens is at present the only Protestant) among six Catholics and two Jews (which raises the question, are abortion and gay-rights activists receiving a fair shake?) and one of two who did not attend Harvard or Yale Law School (she graduated from University of Texas School of Law). The Supreme Court should be diverse in sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background — which also includes justices’ alma maters.

Now let’s move on to the really key issue: Wood’s record. There have been a few cases that have defined her in the public and in print.

The most controversial would be her ruling in NOW v. Scheidler. In this case, the National Organization for Women sued the Pro-Life Action Network for the manner in which anti-abortion groups were disrupting abortion clinics. In many instances, the protesters rushed in, broke medical equipment, chained themselves to operating tables, and assaulted the patients and staff, leading to many injuries.

In a nutshell (if I may be so bold), NOW sued, contending that the protesters planned threats and destruction amounting to extortion. After many trials, the Pro-Life Action Network was barred from interfering in clinic operations. Shortly after this ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the decision.

In other important cases, Wood has stood up for religious freedom (Bloch v. Frischholz and Charles v. Verhagen) and the disabled (Germano v. International Profit Association). If Obama is looking for someone who will uphold the law in a manner that will consider how it affects the minority, Wood is the best choice.

If she is nominated, the left is in for a fight and may have to throw in quite a few political chips. It would appear to be worth it, though, as her short-list peers seem to be unwilling to upset the ideological make up of this country.

Rather than nominate someone lackluster who is easy to get past the Republicans, I hope to see the president put the interest of all Americans, including minorities, first.


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