Justice John Paul Stevens announced last Friday that he will be retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of the current term. His announcement presents President Obama with his second opportunity to nominate a new Justice -- his first was Sonia Sotomayor.
The President already has a short list of ten possible nominees. Two seemingly opposing forces will guide his selection -- the need to appoint someone who is moderate enough to gain approval in the no-longer-filibuster-proof Senate, against the need to appoint somone who is liberal enough to create at least the beginnings of ideological balance in a Court which is ideally impartial, but which is currently so packed with conservative justices that it has shifted to a reactionary stance which pays too little attention to the Constitution and the precedent of law.
It is a Gordian knot. Obama is both an idealist and a pragmatist. I've not agreed with all his decisions thus far in his presidency, but he's still the most intelligent and thoughtful leader to occupy the office in decades. Since his appointee, if approved, will serve an indefinite term, one can only hope for an experienced jurist, deeply schooled in the Constitution, eloquent in his/her opinions, and unafraid to buck the tide of the conservative majority.
Weighing in on the debate, here are a few letters to the NYTimes. I found the first two to be particularly evocative.