04/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Appointments for the Supreme Court

We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges. -- President Barack Obama

Whither lists? Or, and perhaps more important, why? Well, they are extraordinarily helpful for organizing ideas -- the grocery store can be mapped; the day wrangled; the career ladder bulleted and dead-lined. Prospects -- for love or money -- are plotted in a single place, to be re-visited at will, viewed on demand. Thornier, though, is to what end? The why of lists seems sufficient if the list is private; but what of public lists: the editorial in underline, bold letters in newsprint or web log? To influence? To provoke? To predict? Perhaps. For the reporter, beat or institution, perhaps all of these. For the adviser, probably only the first. For me? Of course, it is always a delight to be right, but that is not the driver of this list. If it were, my list would be shorter (Power Ball is won with six numbers for a reason). While I believe any of my "names" could be confirmed, I make no claim that they will be nominated -- only that they should be.

Is this list biased? Doubtless. I did not undertake this exercise as either journalist or adviser, but rather, as citizen. My criteria are my own -- lensed by my life and limited only by the President's words, which appear above. You will find that it is peopled primarily with women. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer demands that any list be dominated by the names of women. But my list would lean heavily on feminine shoulders, regardless. The current Court -- eight men and one woman -- reflects the classrooms of the nation's law schools not seen since 1970. The time for a high court with more than two women has passed. Let us catch up.

It is also largely African American. That there has never been a black woman nominated to the Supreme Court seems to me a bit like Duke Ellington never having won a proper Pulitzer for music* -- their names were excluded (see Constance Baker Motley, et al.). I have decided to write them in.

Also, names are notably absent -- there are several people who are proving astoundingly suited to their current positions, or who I hope will ascend to higher perches of public service that a Supreme Court appointment would preclude, e.g. Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Senator Claire McCaskill, among them.

Many of those listed are judges -- this is more a consequence of recognizing reality than personal preference, i.e. if I ruled the world Dr. David Levering Lewis would have made the cut (to my thinking, his mere months at University of Michigan School of Law is sufficient legal tenure for an intellectual lion).

The list is, sadly, ageist. Dr. Levering Lewis is 72 (perhaps two strikes is a strike too many). The newest member of the Court, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., is 58. Although he was 55 upon his appointment, I used his current age as my cut-off. Were human hearts to routinely beat for a century and more I would have perhaps named Eleanor Holmes Norton (71); Marian Wright Edelman (69); Drew S. Days, III (67); Robert Harris (66); Susan Deller Ross (65); Barrington Parker, Jr. (64); or Eric L. Clay (61). But we must make do in the world as we find it, and in this world Justice Clarence Thomas (60) ascended to the Supreme Court at 43.

Finally, there were several notables routinely mentioned on the shortest of short lists in the days following news of Justice Ginsburg's surgery, e.g. future Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Judge Diane Wood. With apologies to Nina Totenberg and Jeffrey Toobin, Dean Kagan's and Judge Wood's names are absent from my list. I like them and would be pleased were the President to name either. But this is a list for the warming of cockles (mine), the breaking out of champagne if any of it becomes reality (by me), and my general pleasure and good cheer. And there goes another reason: lists can be fun.

In no particular order; drum-roll, please:

1. Sonia Sotomayor, 54 (Princeton, Yale), United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A former editor of the Yale Law Journal and former Assistant District Attorney to New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Judge Sotomayor became the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State in 1991. When President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the appellate court in 1997, she was roundly criticized by the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages and Rush Limbaugh. But she is "widely considered a political centrist by the American Bar Association" (New York Times, USA Today) and "politically moderate" (, which should make for a smooth confirmation should the President nominate her.

2. Jennifer Granholm, 50 (University of California, Berkeley, Harvard), Governor of Michigan. The Canadian-born American, Governor Granholm has served as her state's Attorney General and is currently serving her final (due to term limits) term as Michigan's governor.

3. Teresa Wynn Roseborough, 50 (University of Virginia, Boston University, UNC School of Law), Chief Litigation Counsel at MetLife. A former editor of the North Carolina Law Review, Roseborough served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton Administration and worked as a law clerk for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Dickson Phillips, Jr., and as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She was brought in as counsel to Vice President Al Gore in 2000. The American Spectator reported in its November 1997 issue that President Clinton had intended to nominate Roseborough to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, but that Senator Orrin Hatch, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "balked" at the appointment and "suggested that a more moderate Clinton-appointed U.S. district judge, Frank Hull, would have clear sailing." Judge Hull was ultimately nominated and confirmed.

4. Deval Patrick, 52 (Harvard, Harvard School of Law), Governor of Massachusetts. A former Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, former attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, businessman, and close friend to the President, Governor Patrick is my pick for most likely to become the high court's next liberal lion. His tenure as Massachusetts's governor has not been entirely smooth, but whose is?

5. Leah Ward Sears, 53 (Cornell, Emory), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia and Chair of the Judicial Council of Georgia. Justice Sears, who began her judicial career when Mayor Andrew Young named her to the Atlanta Traffic Court in 1985, became the first African American woman to serve on Georgia's Superior Court in 1988; the first woman and youngest person to sit on the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1992; and the first African American female Chief Justice in the United States in 2005.

6. Victoria A. Roberts, 57 (University of Michigan, Northeastern), U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. A former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Judge Roberts's name was originally held up for confirmation by Senate Republicans after she was nominated by President Clinton. Then she met for an hour in Justice Clarence Thomas's chambers. According to the Washington Post: "He told her how he grew up listening to Motown artists and rattled off tunes by the Temptations, the Marvelettes, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. About 15 or 20 minutes into the conversation, Thomas abruptly stopped, Roberts recalled. 'I have spent longer talking to you than I talked to President [George H.W.] Bush when my name was submitted to the bench,' he told Roberts. 'To this day, I'm still not certain why or how I got this nomination.'" After the meeting, Thomas called his friend Judge Damon Keith, who had vouched for Roberts: "You can tell her she'll be confirmed. I've talked to Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott."

7. Patricia Timmons-Goodson, 54 (UNC, UNC School of Law), Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. A former Fayetteville prosecutor, Judge Timmons-Goodson served as a District Court judge from 1984 to1997 and on the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 1997 to 2005. She has served on North Carolina's high court since 2006.

8. Richard L. Revesz, 50 (Princeton, Yale), Dean of the New York University School of Law. Argentina-born Revesz edited the Yale Law Journal and clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall. He has taught Environmental and Administrative Law and has served as his school's dean since 2002.

9. Jesse Jackson, Jr., 43 (N.C. A&T, Chicago Theological Seminary, University of Illinois School of Law), Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives representing Illinois's 2nd congressional district. Despite the dust-up surrounding Congressman Jackson and allegations of possible impropriety from people close to him and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's attempts to fill President Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat, the Congressman's record speaks for itself.

10. Janet Napolitano, 51 (Santa Clara University, University of Virginia), Secretary of Homeland Security. Secretary Napolitano served as Arizona's Attorney General and was re-elected as her state's governor in 2006. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton as United States Attorney for the District of Arizona where she focused on consumer protection issues and improving general law enforcement. Napolitano served as an attorney for Anita Hill in 1991.

11. Kim McLane Wardlaw, 54 (UCLA, UCLA School of Law), United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Born to a Scottish-Irish father and a Mexican American mother, Judge Wardlaw is the first Hispanic American woman appointed to a United States Court of Appeals. She worked on the successful campaigns of President Bill Clinton (1991-92) and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (1993). She has also served as a U.S. District Court Judge. Wardlaw was nominated for her two federal bench posts by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

12. Martha Vasquez, 55 (University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame Law School), Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. Following a brief stint with Michigan Migrant Legal Services, Judge Vasquez was a public defender in New Mexico from 1979 to 1981, and then entered private practice, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1981 until her appointment to the federal bench in 1993. She is the first woman to be appointed as a federal judge in New Mexico.

13. Keith Ellison, 45 (Wayne State University, University of Minnesota), Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives representing Minnesota's 5th congressional district. Congressman Ellison is actually a member of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, but let's not split hairs. When he was 19 and studying at Wayne State, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam. Ellison has been a litigator specializing in civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law; the executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis that specializes in the defense of indigent clients; a trial attorney; and a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He has also worked as an unpaid radio host for a public affairs talk program on Minnesota's KMOJ and a volunteer track coach for youth ages 5 to 18.

14. Vicki Miles-LaGrange, 55 (Vassar, University of Ghana, Howard University School of Law), Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma. A former editor of the Howard Law Journal, Judge Miles-LaGrange worked as a criminal trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice, and she later prosecuted sex crimes as an Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County. Miles-LaGrange served as chairwoman of the Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee; the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus; and the Law and Justice Committee of the National Conference of State Legislators. From 1986 to 1993, she served in the Oklahoma Legislature while also conducting a private law practice.

15. Johnnie B. Rawlinson, 56 (N.C. A&T, McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific), United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judge Rawlinson spent 17 years as a Deputy District Attorney and Chief Deputy in the office of the Clark County District Attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada before being named a United States district judge in 1997. She was appointed to the Ninth Circuit in 2000, becoming the first African American woman to sit on that court.

16. Ruben Castillo, 54 (Loyola University, Northwestern), United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Born in Chicago to parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico, Castillo was the first in his family to attend college. He has worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney and as regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1994.

17. Harold Hongju Koh, 54 (Harvard; Magdalena College, Oxford; Harvard School of Law), Dean of the Yale Law School. A Korean-American, Koh earned a Marshall Scholarship and also studied at the Hague Academy of International Law. Koh clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun. A leading constitutional law scholar and the author of several books, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under President Clinton.

18. Stephen L. Carter, 54 (Stanford, Yale), William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School. The former editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, The Tattler, and the author of several non-fiction books, Professor Carter published his first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, to wide acclaim in 2002. A former clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, he has taught at Yale School of Law since 1982.

19. Kamala Harris, 44 (Howard; University of California, Hastings College of the Law), San Francisco District Attorney. The daughter of an Indian American mother and a Jamaican American father, Harris is the first female District Attorney to be elected in San Francisco, the first African American elected as District Attorney in California, and the first Indian American elected to the position in the United States. In April 2004, Harris announced that she would not seek the death penalty for the man accused of murdering police officer Isaac Espinoza, a decision which triggered protests from police officers and many citizens. Attorney General Bill Lockyer threatened to intervene on behalf of the State of California to take the case out of Harris's jurisdiction, but ultimately ruled that Harris had acted within her legal authority.

20. Harold Ford, Jr., 38 (University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan), Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. A scion of the Fords of Tennessee, Ford Jr. is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee's 9th district. He ran an unsuccessful bid to become his state's first African American senator in 2006. A former staff aide to the Senate Budget Committee and special assistant to the United States Department of Commerce, moderate Democrats short-listed him to serve as Commerce Secretary. Then the President named Gov. Gary Locke. That Mr. Ford is a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch, despite early evidence that he never received a bonus and was not involved in developing or selling mortgage securities, probably did not help his case. And the safe money may be that President Obama would hesitate to nominate someone who is not a member of a state bar association (Ford, Jr. sat for the bar as a newly elected congressman but did not pass). But this list was never about safe money.

*In 1965, the jury voted to give the prize to Duke Ellington, but the Pulitzer Board refused to accept the ruling and chose to give no award that year. Ellington responded: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be too famous too young." (He was then sixty-seven years old.)