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A Bold Move For The Supreme Court

President Obama has his first chance to make an appointment to the Supreme Court as a result of Justice Souter's imminent retirement. The president offered some remarks that shed light into how he is considering potential justices:

I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living, care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.

Essentially, it sounds like in addition to the standard requirement of professional legal excellence, the president is also seeking someone who can understand the plight of most Americans in their quest for 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'.

Obama has talked a lot over the last year or more about shifting the emphasis of government from Wall St. to Main St. Recalibrating the law to address the vast majority of Americans is a fundamental way to position government to operate in the public interest instead of in the private interest. It sounds like appointing someone to the court who understands that dynamic and has the intellectual horsepower, legal capacity, and personal strength to lead the court in that direction is what the president is seeking.

In addition, appointing a woman and a person of color have been discussed and are obviously sorely needed attributes on the court.

Put all of this in the 'Supreme Court Justice Calculator' and guess who comes up? Lani Guinier.

You remember Lani - she is the woman who Bill Clinton appointed to the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993 but let twist in the wind when the right misrepresented her record and mis-characterized her beliefs on Affirmative Action and her innovative legal thinking about proportional representation. Labeled a "Quota Queen" despite having publicly opposed them, Clinton apparently didn't feel he could spare the political capital to set the record straight and support his friend. He withdrew her nomination and in so doing, stiffed African America.

Guinier not only understands the plight of 'the people', she has devoted much of her writing to figuring out how to utilize the law to strengthen their position. She clearly has the empathy that President Obama values as well as the legal underpinnings to do something about it.

She fits all of the demographic boxes that need to be checked for this nomination. Ms. Guinier is a legal scholar (she is the first African American tenured professor at Harvard Law School). She is, of course, both a woman and is 'of color'. Her appointment would fulfill the president's objectives while also, importantly, rewarding the African American community for their steadfast political support. The appointment would provide the kind of voice on the court that has been missing since Thurgood Marshall.

Now is the time for President Obama to be bold. At 59, Ms. Guinier would be a brilliant legal strategist and a solidly progressive voice on the court for a considerable time. I recommend her as an overwhelmingly positive forward thinking and progressive move for the country. It would be a visionary appointment for the president.


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