Motown is alive, baby love! Okay, wrong Supremes.

With one vacancy to fill and another in the wings, our president will have the opportunity to make history with two very important appointments to the Supreme Court. There is a lot of political pressure being applied from the right and left regarding these appointments. George Bush has a very difficult decision to make and it may do more to define his presidency than 9/11 or the war in Iraq.

Our founding fathers isolated the court from politics by making the appointments for life. Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, said he had lunch two weeks ago with Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Stephen Breyer, and that all three of them said that they’d like to see the President “pick someone who has not been a judge” to serve on the Supreme Court. That idea has some merit, however, I do not know if we want someone not schooled in the law making the type of vital interpretations of the Constitution and law that are argued before the court.

I truly hope that the President means what he has said and seeks out an appointee with tremendous depth of character without the litmus test of any of the hot-button issues of our time. Sure, I hope he selects someone that will protect a woman’s reproductive rights, but almost more important is someone with integrity that will carefully judge the merits of these critical issues and make the same wise decisions as have characterized the best of the Supreme Court. The country is already at war with itself. I have never seen such a divided and entrenched country. The level of discourse is shrill, the ability to compromise is elusive, and the wrong choice for Supreme
Court judges could only make that worse.

The President has a unique historical opportunity to unite the
country by selecting Supreme Court justices who will enjoy widespread bipartisan support, sail through Congress, and represent the best of our country. It is too important to be left to politics. The thing about lifetime appointments is that without the burden of elections and reappointment, what you see today in an individual’s decisions and actions may not be what you get a few years later. All the more reason to choose on the basis of character, rather than on issues.

On the other hand, I am not optimistic that George Bush will choose that road. I think that the trend is clear with his appointments to the Cabinet and lower court positions. It is a divisive strategy that caters to the right. We are going to be hearing more about the “nuclear option” and it would not surprise me if these appointments dominate the news all summer. I know that there is a lot of opposition to many of the decisions of the court over the years and the Roe v. Wade decision tops that list.

The Supreme Court has been responsible for some of the most important decisions that have an impact on our lives. Decisions on issues of desegregation, reproductive rights, affirmative action, freedom of speech, etc. have changed our lives and preserved our civil rights. While you may not agree with all of the decisions of the court (I’m having a bit of trouble with the recent one about seizing private property for commercial development), I think you can agree that we want our very best, smartest, most compassionate and well-informed citizens to be Supreme Court judges.

I have my short list but I’ll bet it is nothing like the President’s
list. I’d put Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on that list. Colin Powell and Marian Wright Edelman, too. It would be good to appoint another woman to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, but it is sort of like picking a player in the draft — you have to pick the most qualified and gifted person for the job.

Don Mayer

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