Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Supreme Court Watch

What are the most important qualifications for a judge serving on the nation’s highest court? Most presidents have agreed that the basic credentials include judicial acumen and respect for constitutional precedent and the rule of law.

President Obama, however, has a taller order for his pick. Though he is not publicizing his potential nominees, one can judge from recent remarks and his voting record in the senate during two Supreme Court nominations that he prizes the heart as well as the head.

Obama has said that “empathy” is a quality he seeks, and one that did not meet his level of satisfaction in Samuel Alito or John Roberts when they were undergoing confirmation by the senate. Obama views those whose rulings consistently side with the powerful against the powerless as out of touch with the impact the court can have on the lives of the American people. In fact, Obama may not choose a federal judge for his nominee. He has made it clear that he will look beyond the bench.

The Constitution says little about the qualifications one must possess to be a Supreme Court Justice, and through history Justices have come from a variety of professions, backgrounds, and political credos. Obama's Republican opposition in the senate accuses the president of using empathy as a guise for selecting a nominee who will be sympathetic to interests of certain groups or individuals. Eventually this question will be settled when the nominee is sent to the senate for confirmation hearings.

Teaching the Constitution with Current Events

Obama is the first Democratic president to appoint a Justice since 1994. Ask students to research the nominations made by former Democratic presidents. Are there commonalities between them? Do students believe that political persuasion can be a factor in a president's decision to nominate or the senate's decision to confirm?

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