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Obama Talks With Senators About Souter Retirement

In an effort to ensure that the confirmation process runs smoothly for Justice David Souter's replacement at the Supreme Court, President Obama has already started contacting senators who will play a key role in the confirmation process, reports The BLT. At today's daily press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs wouldn't divulge any names the President may have in mind for his nominee, but he offered some of the key characteristics and qualities that Obama seeks for the next Supreme Court justice. Among other things, Gibbs shared that Obama is likely to look at candidates for "diversity in background," as well as somebody with a record of excellence, integrity and who understands "how being a judge affects Americans' everyday lives. In addition, Gibbs suggested that Obama has a preference for a young person who could spend several decades on the court.

In the meantime, the president is also getting plenty of unsolicited suggestions for replacements from various commentators. Over at CNN, University of Maryland Law professor Sherrilyn Ifill makes the point that Supreme Court justices represent just a narrow slice of the legal profession. She urges the president to focus on enhancing the professional diversity of the court.

Meanwhile, in The Christian Science Monitor, Kermit Roosevelt, one of Souter's former clerks, recommends that Obama select a "consensus building" judge. Roosevelt writes that while it's important for a justice -- like Scalia -- to have the ability to influence outside readers with quality legal rhetoric, he observes that:

The weakness of the brilliant justices, or many of them, is that they tend to lag in their ability to wield the second kind of influence: influence over their colleagues. They are good at writing opinions, but less good at building a majority. The reason: People who agree with a position love to hear justices who reject it skewered with a rapier epigram. But people who disagree are not likely to be moved, and that goes double for the justices themselves. No one enjoys being on the receiving end of a laugh line.

Roosevelt notes that replacing Souter will not increase the liberal bloc. At a time when so many crucial decisions have been resolved by 5-4 votes, the ability to build consensus is a critical factor. As Roosevelt concludes:

For that task, it will matter very little whether Obama's nominee is brilliant, or whether her opinions draw chuckles in law school faculty lounges. Her influence will lie not in the voice that speaks to the public but rather in the lower tones that carry no farther than the marble halls of One First Street.

Do you agree with Roosevelt that the court needs a consensus builder? What factors do you think should matter most for the next Supreme Court justice?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 4, 2009 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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