The Politics of Replacing Justice Stevens

With elections looming, everyone is a little nervous

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President Obama better break out his nine-dimensional chess board: the daunting task of selecting a new Supreme Court justice to replace John Paul Stevens will require some incredibly complex political calculations. With Democrats wary of their troubling poll numbers, Republicans eager to ride populist anger against Obama even if it means all-out obstructionism, and both parties looking ahead to the November 2010 elections, everyone has an angle to play. Here's the lay of the land.

  • GOP Wins No Matter What  So argue Mother Jones' David Corn and Suzy Khimm. "Whoever is nominated, Republican and conservative groups will use the hearings to rally supporters and raise money—perhaps to use more for the congressional contests than for any effort to defeat the nominee." They also gain "a chance to super-charge their attack on the constitutionality of health care reform and prolong the sparring over that issue at a time when Democrats had hoped to shift the conversation to jobs and financial regulation."
  • Wrong! GOP Is Nervous Here  Time's Mark Halperin argues that Republican strategists should be wary of the controversial social issues that inevitably come up during Supreme Court nomination fights. He says Republicans want to champion financial concerns and populist rage in the elections. But, especially with the libertarian bent of the Tea Party, the GOP worries that the social conservative base is narrower than their current populist, anti-Obama wave.
  • Health Care Takes Center Stage  RealClearPolitics' Michael Barone warns that health care, and the conservative fight to repeal it, could become a central issue in the political debate over a potential nominee. Questions about the constitutionality of health care reform, and about the Court's power to overturn it, will surely dominate.
  • Dems: Let's Make This Speedy  The New York Times' Sewell Chan reports than Democratic Senators are pushing for a quick resolution. He quotes Senator Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, "I think we’re going to hear it soon enough so we can wrap this up this summer."
  • GOP: We Reserve the Filibuster  Though they did not attempt to filibuster Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, the Washington Post's Matthew DeLong reports that Republicans are keeping that option on the table this go-around. He culls recent statements from Republican Senators, who are careful to qualify that such a move would be "unlikely" but who nonetheless carefully emphasize it as a possible recourse if the nominee is not "mainstream."
  • National Journal's Experts: It's Kagan  National Journal's "informal poll of court-watchers" have "overwhelmingly predicted that Solicitor General Elena Kagan will be President Obama's pick to replace Justice John Paul Stevens." Respondents cite her conservative support, her personal closeness to Obama, and her relatively thin record of published opinions, which gives opposition researchers less to work with.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.