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Who Will Get The Stevens Seat?

Publication Date: 
April 15, 2010
David von Drehle

Lecturer Thomas Goldstein is quoted in Time Magazine on the possible nomination of Elena Kagan as the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. David Von Drehle reports:

The retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens this summer, when he'll have turned 90, will be the end of an era for the U.S. Supreme Court, and we're not talking about just his signature bow ties. Stevens is likely the last link to a time when Presidents typically chose Justices who weren't raised in ideological petri dishes. When Gerald Ford nominated Stevens in 1975, he couldn't have known much more about his choice than Stevens' reputation for integrity, brilliance and impeccable manners. The genus was Republican, true, but the species was country club. And Ford had played enough golf to know that gentlemen don't ask other gentlemen about their politics.
(See pictures of Justice John Paul Stevens.)

That's all finished, and Stevens helped finish it. Along with Earl Warren, William J. Brennan, Harry Blackmun and David Souter, Stevens is part of a small army of modern-era Justices who marched leftward after being elevated to the court by Republican patrons. If Presidents and political parties now put a premium on ideological purity, it's because they have seen what can happen when a Justice decides to migrate. The art of today's Supreme Court nominations comes down to finding candidates who can talk the talk of open-mindedness — then, once safely confirmed by the Senate, wage the court's ideological battles with tireless consistency.


On the list of 10 or so candidates floated by the White House in recent days, no one better fits that bill than Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a former Clinton Administration official and the first female dean of Harvard Law School. Like Roberts, Kagan came of age in the White House counsel's office, a busy intersection of politics and law. Like Roberts, she made a practice of avoiding controversial statements and winning admirers from across the political divide. And also like Roberts, she persuaded her supporters that she shared their political views without ever being caught saying so. All of which makes her, according to court watcher Tom Goldstein, founder of the influential SCOTUSblog, "the prohibitive favorite."
(See who's who in Barack Obama's White House.)