Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama Court Pick: "You Gotta Have Heart"

I must be dating myself badly because I have this image of the characters from the movie “Damn Yankees” going through my head—the locker room scene where the players are singing “You Gotta Have Heart” with that incredible high descant harmony.

The reason is that yesterday, an AP article stated that President Obama wants the successor to Supreme Court Justice Souter to be someone “who is not only schooled in the law, but passionate about how it affects people’s lives, a scholar willing to decide a case from the heart when the constitutional answer is elusive.”

Unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to the article. (I wonder whether my paper did some pretty heavy editing). The only person quoted in the article was White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs. “You have a president who understands and has studied many of these issues—even taught them,” said Gibbs.

Now I don’t have much of a problem with these criteria. But I think that has a lot to do with how I perceive President Obama and his philosophical and constitutional orientation. If Obama’s predecessor had said the same thing in the context of his choice for a Supreme Court justice it would have scared the hell out of me.

So, unfortunately what it seems to come down to is our basic sense of agreement with the person who will be doing the nominating. A good justice is in the eye of the beholder. It just depends on which side of the teeter-totter you’re sitting.

Yeah, I think that Souter’s successor will likely be pretty liberal in his or her view of the U.S. Constitution. I also think that the successor will have some pretty well established credentials as a Constitutional scholar (especially knowing that Obama has those same credentials). As for someone who is passionate about how the law affects people’s lives—to me that’s a pre-requisite. The law and the constitution do affect people’s lives. Every day. In numerous ways.

And I guess I think that a liberal successor to David Souter (who was more “liberal” than Pres. Bush would have ever supposed) is just fine. There will be those who will revile that more liberal orientation. There will be those who are scathing over ever opinion. Personally I think they’re wrong.

Maybe it’s like my Dad always used to say (especially when I was just about to lose a teen-ager’s argument with him) “Opinions are like asses. Everybody has one.”

Supreme Court justices are kind of like the father of a teenager—when push comes to shove their opinion is going to be the one which counts. Hopefully when whoever is ultimately confirmed as the next justice decides from the heart it will be reasoned, tempered by knowledge and passion for the constitution and empathy for the people who will be affected. And, “You Gotta Have Heart” is a good way of putting it.

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