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SANDERS: Obama's supreme legacy

Commentary • Apr 14, 2010 at 3:30 PM

By RUFUS G.W. SANDERS, Register columnist

What an impact the presidency of Barack Obama has had on this country! He has already left quite a legacy.

He has been in office for only almost two years and he has already gotten passed the most socially important legislation this country has seen since the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s. He has won the Nobel Prize during his first year in office, an honor usually not even considered seriously until after a president's term in office is over. He has already appointed one Supreme Court justice and now it appears he will get to appoint another, thus shaping the mind and soul of the country for at least a generation. Given the fragile health condition of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he might get an opportunity to appoint a third justice.

With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, this new appointee will likely serve for at least 30 or 40 years. Whoever it will be will not likely alter the ideological balance of the court, which is just right of center, but will still be able to have a long-term effect on continuing the philosophy of President Obama, solidifying his legacy. This new justice will be instrumental in determining social issues for decades to come: abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, immigration rights, the scope of federal powers, issues of liberty and justice and civil rights. Selecting a Supreme Court justice is probably one of the most important things a president is ever likely to do. To have that opportunity as many times as it appears that President Obama will have will anchor him as one of the most important presidents in American history.

The Republican opposition is already gearing up for what could be one of the biggest political fights the president will have for the rest of his first term. While Obama will probably select a Democrat who is moderate, philosophically the same as Stevens; the Republicans, regardless of whoever the nominee is, will try with everything within them to stop what appears to be the acceleration of what I am calling the "Obamamotion:" -- the socio-political movement of this country back to a more centrist position where the rights of all the people are always the chief concern of the government. This is about more than appointing a justice to the Supreme Court, this is about the right wing's continuing attempt to stop Obama.

The media reports the White House is looking at about 10 people. Three were on Obama's short list for his first appointment, the first Hispanic justice, Sonia Sotomayor. They are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the first female solicitor general, Judge Merrick Garland and Chicago judge Diane Wood. All three are liberals. with Judge Garland probably being the most moderate and the most acceptable to Republicans -- who promise a knock-down, drag-out fight, accordign to Sen. Orrin Hatch, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. But also on the list are people such as Patrick Deval, governor of Massachusetts, and Eric Holder, attorney general -- both African-Americans and both personal friends of the president; along with Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan, and Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security. All of these people, I think, would make excellent choices. Though liberal, they are all consensus builders and proponents of the theory you apply the law to the facts and that the constitution is a document that is very much alive, fluid, perpetually active and always evolving.

My all-time favorite for the Supreme Court would be the brilliant Hillary Clinton, but it is obvious she has found her niche, at least for now, as the secretary of state.

So let me make another suggestion here, a long shot, but one worthy of some real consideration: Goodwin Liu. The Taiwanese-American legal scholar is the president's nominee for to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. His nomination is being held up by Republicans because they fear he would be a strong candidate for a Supreme Court position in the future. This was of course before the resignation of Justice Stevens. Now that Stevens has announced his retirement, I say go for it ,Mr. President -- nominate Liu, forgo the Appeals Court appointment. Since the Republicans are playing politics anyhow by holding up his nomination, force them to play it on a larger stage.

Liu is only 39. He would serve for maybe the next 50 years. His credentials are impeccable. He is a Rhodes Scholar who has clerked for Justice Ginsburg. He is an expert in constitutional and educational law. He supports all of the social issues Obama supports. He is pragmatic with his views, falling within the mainstream of American thought. Even key conservatives like Kenneth Starr endorse him as an independent thinker, but one who is open and fair. And then there is the compelling American life story. He would be the first Asian-American to sit on the high court. What an addition to Obama's legacy, already fast becoming an American phenomenon. It would be great for the American people. There is no way the Republicans could publicly deny this nomination; it would further alienate them from the 21st century. Then your next appointment could be the first black female justice we are waiting for.

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