There was much sound and fury and hyperbole and misinformation this past election year. Between old white guys telling us what to do with our vaginas and redefining rape for us to hysterically misinterpreting the Affordable Care Act, this election season was exhausting. There was just so much this year and, strangely enough, an issue that usually is at the forefront of the chatter during an election cycle was pushed back this time: potential Supreme Court nominees.
Don’t get me wrong, the issue was discussed, but without much of the fervor of previous campaigns. However, it still remains that with at least one, maybe even two Supreme Court justices retiring in the next couple of years, the victor would have the means to shape the direction of the court for years to come. With the re-election of President Barack Obama, the highest court in the land has a good chance of changing to a progressive one. Many major judgments handed down over the last few years have come down to a 5 to 4 split. Another left-leaning justice or two could tip the balance and ensure that decisions like Roe v. Wade cannot be overturned (it’s at least safe for the next four years), but also take steps to reverse controversial decisions like Citizens United.
As it stands, the justice most likely to retire during President Obama’s second term is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and firmly on the liberal side. She’s beat both colon and pancreatic cancer, but at age 79, she may decide to step down. This is another reason to breathe a sigh of relief that Obama was re-elected. A left-leaning justice like Ginsberg could have been replaced by a conservative judge under a Romney/Ryan presidency and that would have tipped the balance of the court for the foreseeable future. The nightmare scenarios from that are too much to think about after this whole election season. What could be interesting is if one of the conservative judges decides to step down during President Obama’s second term. According to Forbes, Justice Antonin Scalia has recently been speaking with reporters, including CNN’s Piers Morgan about retiring in recent months. Another prospective retiree could be Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote. Both men are 76 years old and if either of these men were to step down, the court could have a liberal majority.
So who could replace at least one of the potentially retiring justices? The administration keeps a short list on hand of potential nominees, but so has almost every administration before it. According to the official SCOTUS blog, this particular administration has several criteria in mind for any potential candidate:
The person must of course be highly qualified intellectually. Beyond that, the candidate must be (a) female, (b) a Democrat, (c) reasonably well known to the President’s advisers, (d) between the age of forty-two and fifty-two, (e) a lawyer… (f) have substantial interest and experience in the kinds of issues that the Supreme Court decides… and (g) have sufficient credentials. Those credentials would be (i) a federal appellate judgeship, (ii) federal or statewide electoral office, or (iii) a senior federal executive position. There also is a substantial preference that the nominee be African American or Asian American.
Given Obama’s previous two appointees, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, future nominees will also most likely be moderates and have good reputations. The following are a list of potential nominees for a Supreme court vacancy.
Kamala Harris – California Attorney General
The California Attorney General is at the top of everyone’s list of possible candidates for SCOTUS and hits every criteria listed above. She is bi-racial, like the President (her mother is Indian, while her father is Jamaican-American), and she has a very good resume. Harris is a former San Francisco district attorney and has a substantial law enforcement background, having also written on criminal justice policy. She opposes the death penalty, but has also opposed the legalizing of medical marijuana and the awarding of driver’s license to illegal immigrants, though she supported San Francisco’s immigration policy of not inquiring about immigration status in the process of a criminal investigation, since she believes it is essential for immigrants to feel they can talk to law enforcement without fear. Harris also created a special Hate Crimes Unit as San Francisco District Attorney, focusing on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools. She would be the type of nominee that could pass through the confirmation without a filibuster. She also introduced the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, which protects homeowners from predatory lending practices. The only issue: Harris may seek reelection in 2014 and then run for governor of California four years later. It’s unknown if Harris will pass up advancing her political career for a seat on the Supreme Court.
Jennifer Granholm – Former Governor of Michigan
Granholm is the first female governor for the state of Michigan from 2003-2011, where she also served as attorney general. She served two-terms as governor before stepping down due to term limits. Granholm was a member of the presidential transition team for Barack Obama and now teaches at UC Berkeley. She is also the host of The War Room with Jennifer Granholm on Current TV. Some of you might also remember her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention where she praised Obama’s bailout of the auto industry and lambasted Romney for his quote about letting “Detroit go bankrupt.” Granholm is obviously well known to the administration and with her leading one of the states hardest hit by the financial crisis, she could add considerable weight behind decisions dealing with employee and union worker rights. During an interview in 2003, she expressed her disapproval of the proposed state budget cuts that mostly targeted social welfare programs”
Often those who cloak themselves in a cape of religiosity happen to be some who are the biggest cutters. Now, some of that can balance out. But when you get to cutting the services for the least of these ““ in the 25th chapter of Matthew in the 37th verse the Lord says, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, so also you do unto me” ““ that’s when I question whether somebody is really living out the faith that they profess.
Judge Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen – 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, San Francisco
Hong-Ngoc Nguyen was born in Dalat, Vietnam in 1965 and moved with her family to the US when she was 10 years old, shortly after the fall of South Vietnam. She would be the first Asian-American to sit on the Supreme Court bench if appointed; she is already the first Asian-American woman to sit on a federal appeals court. She has worked as a private attorney, prosecutor and state judge. President Obama nominated her to the federal appeals court in 2011. As a litigator, she focused on commercial disputes, intellectual property and construction-defect cases and according to the Alliance for Justice website, she prosecuted cases focusing on violent crimes, organized crime, narcotics trafficking, gun cases, and complex fraud issues involving smuggling, immigration fraud, mail fraud, and tax fraud. As a judge, she has presided over cases of intellectual property and trademark issues. Nguyen has been compared to Obama Supreme Court appointee Sonia Sotomayor, since both began their legal careers in private practice before becoming prosecutors. Like Sotomayer, her background as a prosecutor could ease the concerns of conservatives.
These are just three of the individuals who are considered as potential nominees for the Supreme Court. Look for part two to feature a few more profiles.