The rumors have given way to reality. After months of speculation, Associate Justice David Souter has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. While it is a time to reflect and look back upon his service to the country, it is also a time to look forward to examine the opportunity this opening on the Court gives President Barack Obama.
There is no longer-lasting legacy for a president than the men and women he appoints to the Supreme Court. They serve long after the president who appointed leaves them office. Their decisions shape this great nation not for months or years, but for decades. Indeed, President Gerald Ford observed in one of the last interviews before his death that he still looks back on his appointment of Justice John Paul Stevens to the court as his proudest and most important legacy.
There are, of course, basic qualifications that must be met. An excellent record in the law. Respect for core constitutional values. A commitment to equal justice for all.
There is also need for a strong and independent voice who will stand up for those core constitutional values and hold firm against the onslaught of politically-motivated decisions being handed down by the Court's most recent appointees, decisions that cheated a hard-working factory worker out of her pay to benefit a large corporation, decisions that said a courageous government worker could be fired for blowing the whistle on fraud and corruption.
This is the time to be bold. Extremists will set out to block this president's nominee regardless of his or her background or experience. We've seen it already with President Obama's nominees to posts throughout the government. Eminently qualified men and women like Harold Koh and Dawn Johnsen are being pilloried because they do not share the political agenda of the hard right. Within hours of the announcement of the president's first judicial nominee, ultraconservatives were twisting the record of David Hamilton, a moderate with bipartisan support. They were laying the groundwork for this moment.
The politics of obstruction will only increase when a Supreme Court seat is on the line, so there is little to gain from timidity and much to be gained from fearlessness. Our country is at a crossroads. President Obama recognizes that bold action is required on the economy, on health care, on America's place in the global community. So too is it needed in choosing his first nominee to the Supreme Court.