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Supreme Court Picks: Readers Speak Up

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Last week, we asked the HuffPost readership to weigh in on the upcoming vacancy in the Supreme Court of the United States. Specifically, we asked for people to ruminate on this quality of "empathy," which President Barack Obama put forth as being a guiding criteria, and to suggest some not-necessarily-on-the-short-list picks of their own. If I had to boil down popular sentiment into a per curiam opinion, LOTS OF YOU seem to want to drag Al Gore away from his family and environmental work back into public life as a Supreme Court Justice. And I mean: LOTS OF YOU.

All the same, we also received a plethora of other interesting suggestions.

Winston Johnson from Atlanta recommends Justice Leah Ward Sears. "She was the first African-American woman to become Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. She is what I would consider to be a progressive moderate. But she got the praise of one of the most conservative editors at the Atlanta Journal Constitution several months ago for her ideas about the black family."

Michael McTague suggests that Obama nominate a civil rights activist par excellence: "How about Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law center? Let's seat a person who has spent his life fighting for our civil liberties."

Carol Jobson brings back a face familiar from Democratic Primary fights of yore. "I suggest Jerry Brown. Intelligent, articulate, very empathetic. Never afraid to tilt a windmills. Only downside - he's a white straight male." It's worth pointing out that two of my favorite persons/people -- Chicago journalist Mike Royko and influential punk rockers The Dead Kennedys -- have criticized Brown (the former coined the nickname "Governor Moonbeam," the latter excoriated him in their song "California Uber Alles"). Both Royko and TDK have since taken back their criticism.

Melody Colville says, "YOU DO REALIZE A LAW DEGREE IS NOT REQUIRED, RIGHT? GIVEN THAT, HERE ARE A FEW PEOPLE I THINK WOULD DO WELL ON THE COURT: GEORGE CLOONEY, DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, JUDGE JUDY, EUGENE ROBINSON." I'm not sure how those names stack up where SCOTUS qualifications are concerned, but that has the makings of a good Oceans 14.

Alex Lazar says the ideal choice already works for the Obama administration: "The person I think would be a perfect nominee is Obama's general counsel to the Office of Budget and Management, Preeta Bansal. She would be the first Asian/Indian appointed to the high court and is eminently qualified. She has worked in the justice department, been the solicitor general for New York, clerked for justice Stevens, and much more."

Rafael S. Climaco says his "top choice" is "Harold Koh, Dean of Yale Law School." And if you are a fan of bruising, contentious confirmation hearings, he'd be ideal. (See Catherine Powell's In Defense of Harold Koh: Nominee for State Department Legal Advisor.)

Bill Heber wasn't alone in his pick: "My choice is Russ Feingold. The Senator has been a champion of the rule of law even when it wasn't popular. His temperament and his high moral character make him more suited as a justice than as a senator. Because he has been a politician he has the empathy and real world experience that Justice Souter did not bring to the bench."

Brock Hotaling also campaigned on behalf of a very popular public choice: "Supreme Court just seems like Hillary [Clinton]'s destiny from her whole life trajectory. Obama should make it come true. No need for me to write her brief - the fit is so perfect there might be no other appointment in the past that seems quite so obvious. She's merely an OK Secretary of State, but she would be a truly great Supreme Court justice."

Seth A. Miller from New York advocates for the appointment of one of our best known public intellectuals: "For all the talk about litmus tests, the most corrosive doctrine that the Supreme Court has to deal with is the notion that money equals speech. This comes courtesy of the Court's decision in Buckley v. Valeo, one of many examples of conservative judicial activism. Because of Buckley, it is difficult if not impossible to enact thorough campaign finance reform. There is no more thoughtful and effective advocate for revisiting this doctrine than Lawrence Lessig. His professional career has been devoted to a true and intellectually honest examination of property rights claims, inevitably resulting in calling into question the constant expansion of property rights into the public domain. Let's put his name into the ring."

And Laura G. recommends a woman who Colbert Nation, as well as her constituents in the District of Columbia, should be familiar with: "How about Eleanor Holmes Norton? She's brilliant, courageous, of the people, smart, legal minded, compassionate, female, African-American..." And she's one of the few people who are still in the trenches fighting for voting rights today.

We also had several readers who were willing to expound on the philosophical matters of picking a SCOTUS Justice.

HuffPost commenter "DoTheMath":

I'll have to admit that when I first heard President Obama's empathy criterion I was skeptical. It seemed to violate the idea of making legal judgments on purely legal merits, using a strictly rational, rather than emotional, process. Then I remembered what I learned in graduate history classes 20 years ago. Nobody's impartial.

Even if a historian wrote an entire book containing nothing but historical evidence, not one statement that anyone could classify as an opinion, that historian would have to choose which evidence to include, how to arrange the evidence, how to present it. That doesn't mean it isn't important to separate fact from opinion or to analyze our own values or to attempt to weed out or counterbalance any biases that might affect our decisions.

It does mean that everything we do is filtered through ourselves - through our experience, our personality, our perspective. Supreme Court decisions for as long as the court has existed have been filtered through the people who made those decisions. President Obama is not suggesting that we change that. He's suggesting that we become aware of it.

Another commenter, "hgovernick" suggests:

The Constitution does not list or specify any formal qualifications to become a justice on the Supreme Court. With that in mind, why not have someone on the court who is NOT a lawyer and NOT a politician, but just a man or woman who has devoted his or her lifetime to fighting for the lowest common denominator in our society, the poor.

Commenter "pm247" says, "My dark horse candidate is Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico." And, indeed, that is quite a dark horse candidate. To be fair, this commenter also suggests Byron Dorgan: "Ethical, eloquent, immersed in the issues, not an ivory tower intellectual."

And of course, from BeachBubbaTex:

I still think the White House should leak the name of Bill Ayers. It would be a mess for a couple of weeks and long-term care facilities would be over-whelmed, but just think of the exploding heads.

Other picks, from commenters, include:

Judge Bea Ann Smith: President of the National Association of Women Judges and on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Women Judges.

Richard A. Bieder (Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder): "A regular trial lawyer with a base in the community. This is what Obama needs. He needs someone that is a regular 'Joe' that knows the law and is accustomed to fighting for the underdog."

Anna Diggs Taylor: From Wikipedia, "United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She graduated from Barnard College in 1954 and Yale Law School in 1957, and worked in the Office of Solicitor for the United States Department of Labor. In 1979, she was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter, becoming the first black woman judge appointed to that Eastern District of Michigan." Our commenter notes: "She unequivocally told the Bush administration that they had to stop warrantless wiretaps immediately."

Lani Guinier: Guinier is the first black woman to receive tenure at Harvard Law, but is better known for being a controversial and failed pick for the Clinton Justice Department. She's likely face an epic confirmation battle.

Jonathan Turley: A frequent on-air commentator, this professor of law at George Washington University was supported by many. Here's a nice and empathetic thing that Turley does: he runs the Project For Older Prisoners, where students "assist individual low-risk prisoners over the age of 55 to help them obtain paroles, pardons, or alternative forms of incarceration."

Kimberle Crenshaw: Civil Rights law expert, teaches classes at UCLA and Columbia.

Vanzetta Penn McPherson: United States Magistrate Judge in Montgomery, Alabama.

Melissa Victoria Harris-Lacewell: Associate Professor of Politics and African American studies at Princeton University, she is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought.

Also picked often: John Edwards, Anita Hill, Eliot Spitzer, Jennifer Granholm, Ralph Nader, Bill Clinton, Patrick Fitzgerald.

[Help expand our coverage, join HuffPost's Eyes&Ears Citizen Reporting Unit. Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

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