06/09/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Supreme Decision

The resignation of Justice John Paul Stevens has set in motion a new round of "who will Obama's pick be"? It's more than a little distasteful to watch Republicans such as Senator Orrin Hatch trotting out their usual claptrap about an activist judge being unacceptable, when it is precisely activists that they have sedulously sought to place on the Supreme Court in the past several decades, as long as they hew to conservative views. They have an original view, you could say, of originalism, the doctrine that they purport to champion, which serves, in reality, as a smokescreen for smuggling in their own radical views about corporations and the like.

Obama himself will undoubtedly come up with a moderate pick, one that the GOP will work overtime to depict as some kind of nefarious radical. But in some ways, it doesn't even matter all that much whom he chooses, as heretical as that may sound. The more important part is that he's the one doing the choosing. In watching all the criticism of Obama over the past year, I've begun to think that it would be a valuable thought experiment to imagine what the United States would look like had John McCain and Sarah Palin won the election. We'd probably be at war with Iran, among other things. The economy would be in total shambles. And the Supreme Court? It would be hosting two more Alito clones, handpicked by McCain. Stevens' own career -- first Richard Nixon, then Gerald Ford promoted him -- demonstrates how far the GOP has shifted to the right.

No, this isn't a reason to let Obama off the hook when it comes to his policies and personnel. But I'm just saying that Stevens' resignation offers a reminder of why it's a very good thing that Obama is making the supreme decisions about America's future. And Stevens, who has expressed his admiration for Obama, obviously agrees or he wouldn't be stepping down. Now Obama must step up to the challenge of guiding his next pick safely to the court.