Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Anatomy of a Supreme Court Pick

According to ABC News, President Obama was drawn to Sonia Sotomayor early on, but took the time to weigh various factors including her living-the-American-Dream background, her intellectual heft and philosophy, how much political capital would have to be expended to win confirmation, and the gains to be had as well as the skirmishes to be avoided.

It surely didn't hurt that Sotomayor has a stronger educational pedigree than Antonin Scalia, the rags-to-riches story of Clarence Thomas, a comparable tenure on the federal courts as Anthony Kennedy, and could galvanize important parts of the electorate like the selection of Thurgood Marshall or Sandra Day O'Connor.

While past presidents have cared about different specifics, I would venture to say that most presidents have cared about roughly similar things in weighing competing priorities. The entire enterprise involves seeing a nominee through the prism of narrow considerations such as a president's policy agenda and how best to secure favorable news cycles, as well as long-term considerations such as party politics, electoral prospects, and constitutional legacy. Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 40s and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s—two presidents with lofty constitutional ambitions—faced an analogous set of considerations. Even if you wish to remake the Judiciary in your own image, you must contend with the practicalities of governance.

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