I've heard a few people mention that this represents a political opportunity for the Republicans. But for the life of me I cannot see that. Supreme Court nominations are extremely high stakes battles for partisans on both sides and each party wants to hit a nomination struggle with the most political muscle possible. President Obama has extraordinarily high personal popularity at the moment. His approval rating, while down a bit off the inaugural high, has stabilized and even tracked up a bit at a strong 60%. His party is nearing 60 seats in the senate. And the Specter party-switch, while perhaps not that significant in numerical terms, has left the senate Republican caucus deeply split and demoralized -- with one faction savoring an emasculated, tea-bag-driven ideological purity and another disgusted with the party's ultras and anxious to reenter the actual national political conversation. In other words, it's about the worst footing imaginable for senate Republicans to try to defeat or stand united against whomever Obama chooses.
The president will be personally invested and involved. I think it will come down to interviews between Wood, Kagan, Sotomayor, and two more out-of-the-box candidates, perhaps one with significant political experience and another who is a progressive visionary.
And the president will decide personally based on his own very individual view of how he wants to shape the Court. There is no rush to make an announcement. The term will conclude at the very end of June, and it makes no sense--and there is no pressure--to announce a choice for a successor before the justice has completed this term's work. That leaves two months, which is plenty of time, and the president can reasonably be expected in very early July to name his nominee. Hearings would be held in early or mid-August (the administration and Senate Democrats will want them sooner rather than later, in order to not leave the nominee hanging), when the rest of Washington hoped to be on vacation away from the heat.
Today, the average Supreme Court justice serves for over 26 years. Over such a lengthy tenure, there is likely to be turnover among the other justices, and the current appointee's ideology may have a major impact on the balance of power over the long run even if its immediate effect is insignificant.
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2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan