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Obama's Supreme Court choice: Will he change the balance?

Mark Mardell | 17:26 UK time, Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Justice Stevens

The US will have a new justice on the Supreme Court by the end of next month, and between now and then there's going to be a lot of speculation if it will make the court more liberal, more conservative, more ethnically diverse and so on.

One thing is for certain: It will make the average age lower. At the moment it stands at 68 years and 10 months.

The gap is because Justice John Paul Stevens has decided to retire. It was his 90th birthday yesterday, which he celebrated with a quietish day in court.

The president sent him birthday wishes saying:

"For the last 35 years of your remarkable 90, the nation has benefited from the rigor, courage, and integrity that have marked your service on the Supreme Court. Our system of justice and our nation are stronger and fairer because of your sterling contributions."

President Obama says he'll choose a successor for Justice Stevens by the end of May at the latest and today he's meeting with leading Republicans and Democrats from the Senate to discuss the appointment.

Although he describes himself as a moderate and started life as a Republican, Justice Stevens is seen as being the leader of the liberals on the court. That means it is not as much of a challenge, or indeed opportunity, as if the president were replacing a conservative.

But the president has to decide whether he wants to pick someone who Republicans will endorse or whether he doesn't mind a bit of a fight in the Senate.
John Paul Jones

Whoever it is, and there's apparently a list of about 10, some Republicans will object that the pick is too liberal and is otherwise unsuitable, largely on the grounds that it is the traditional thing to do, and would be almost rude not to engage in a bit of political showmanship.

But there is one interesting question at least. Justice Stevens is the last WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) on the Supreme Court.

Wikipedia briefly suggested today he was unique in other ways, but the entry, which had the bow tie-wearing nonagenarian down as the former bass player with Led Zeppelin was later removed..

That was John Paul Jones, currently with the group Them Crooked Vultures, which clearly has no connection with lawyers.

So discounting the need for a heavy metal bassist, the matter of religion remains.
There is no shortage of white men, it is just that Justice Stevens is, as I understand it, the only Protestant on the bench. It will be interesting to see if that is a consideration.


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