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Choose Your Own Supreme Court Justice

Publication Date: 
April 12, 2010
Emily Bazelon, Dahlia Lithwick, Jeremy Singer-Vine, and Chris Wilson

Professor Pamela Karlan and Kathleen Sullivan are profiled as part of Slate's interactive article where readers can nominate their own U.S. Supreme Court Justice:

Slate wants to hear from you on whom Barack Obama should nominate to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who will retire at the end of this year's term. Below is our handpicked list of leading candidates for the job, which you can further filter by age and gender using the buttons on the left. To cast your vote, click on the name and then click "Nominate" at the bottom of the candidate's profile to send us an e-mail. Please write a few words about why you're choosing your pick as well. (Comments may be quoted by name unless you specify otherwise.)


Pam Karlan, 50, teaches law at Stanford University. As founding director of the school's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, she has helped represent dozens of defendants in criminal and civil rights matters, all free of charge. An expert on constitutional and election law, Karlan has served as assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Karlan has authored three leading casebooks on constitutional law (one of which Obama taught from) and is co-author of Keeping Faith With the Constitution, which offers a progressive theory of jurisprudential interpretation. Karlan confirmed to Politico that she is "counted among the LGBT crowd." Karlan, whose legal writing is both trenchant and prolific, has become something of a rock star on the legal-conference circuit.

Karlan has no judicial record to probe, but she has an immense collection of writings. She argued at the Supreme Court in defense of the Voting Rights Act and wrote an amicus brief on behalf of legal academics in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, arguing that laws against consensual sodomy were unconstitutional. She has defended criminal defendants in police search cases at the high court and has been a strong advocate for gay marriage. (Disclosure: Karlan is an acquaintance of Dahlia Lithwick's.)


Kathleen Sullivan, 54, is the former dean of Stanford Law School, teaches constitutional law there, and has authored the nation's leading constitutional law casebook. She is chair of the National Appellate Practice at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which recently added her name to its billing. A one-time Marshall scholar, Sullivan's constitutional knowledge is prodigious. Her former law professor Laurence Tribe once called Sullivan "the most extraordinary student I had ever had." The National Law Journal has twice named her one of the "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America" and has twice named her as one of the "50 Most Influential Women Lawyers in America." Last time around, Politico reported that she was a lesbian; she did not comment. Sullivan is a gifted oral advocate and has argued five cases at the Supreme Court, notably several important business cases in recent years, including an appeal representing wineries challenging bans on the direct shipment of wine to consumers living out of state. She was also a member of the legal team that challenged the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Sullivan has filed amicus briefs in two seminal gay rights cases at the Supreme Court, Lawrence v. Texas and Bowers v. Hardwick, and authored an amicus brief in a case involving the constitutionality of gay marriage in California. She is also well-known for her pro bono work in high-profile cases involving civil rights and civil liberties. In a brief she co-authored in a landmark case about warrantless NSA wiretapping, she wrote, "Whatever inherent powers the President might have under Article II, they do not include the power to conduct a warrantless domestic surveillance campaign, of indefinite duration and unlimited scope, where a duly enacted statute expressly prohibits such conduct." (Disclosure: Sullivan was a professor of Dahlia Lithwick's at law school.)