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

Bard Blog on Supreme Court Selections

President Obama now gets his second opportunity to fill a Supreme Court seat, with Justice John Paul Stevens just announcing his retirement.

The genteel, bow-tied Justice has been making his victory lap on the interview circuit for some months now. And these media messengers have responded much like the messenger in Much Ado About Nothing: "He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion. He hath indeed better bettered expectation."

Forsooth! Justice Stevens has made a bigger impact on the Court than anyone expected when President Ford appointed him. But that bigger impact was made in a way unexpected, and most unwanted, by the Republicans who backed him - as a liberal justice, the later antidote to Justice Scalia.

Hence, the mega-Shakespearean issue here: How do we know how a nominee will turn out? For, as Ophelia says, "We know what we are, but we know not what we may be."

That's a big problem with Supreme Court selections. Neither the President nor the Senators, who must confirm, know just what they'll get. Neither can "look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not," as that lousy forecaster Macbeth admits.

Nonetheless, there's a human longing for peering into that murky future. In a month or two, every Senator who votes on Obama's choice will muse: "O that a man might know the end of this day's business ere it come!"

But just as those Senators in Julius Caesar could not know what'll happen, so our Senators, sitting in the Roman structure of our Capitol, will be casting a vote in great uncertainty. Like in all aspects of life, Shakespeare appreciated that sad but major reality of our existence.