Friday, April 9, 2010

EXTRA: Will Obama replace Chicagoan with a Chicagoan on the Supreme Court?

I remember thinking last year when President Barack Obama was contemplating his first nomination for a Supreme Court justice (ultimately giving us the first Latina, Sonia Sotomayor) that Diane Wood was a likely nominee should the president from Hyde Park ever get a second chance to pick somebody.

Which is why I am wondering if the upcoming resignation of Justice John Paul Stevens is the opportunity for Wood – a federal appeals judge assigned to the court for Chicago and the Midwestern U.S. – to rise to the nation’s high court?

AS SOME HAVE already noted, Stevens was a part of a prominent Chicago family who always took pride in coming from the Second City, while Wood is a federal judge in Chicago who also taught on the faculty of the University of Chicago law school – although she was a full-fledged professor, compared to the “instructor” status that Obama held when he was on the faculty.

Is this going to be Obama’s chance to promote a Chicagoan to a spot on the court, in keeping with the heavy Chicago overtones that the federal government took on a year ago? It wouldn’t be the most ludicrous thought, since Wood (who on Independence Day this year will turn 60) was put through the interview process last year and theoretically has already gone through much of the vetting process to make sure that her presence wouldn’t “embarrass” the president.

Then again, with the political mood being the way it is these days, it isn’t going to take much for Republican partisans to engage in trash talk.

Heck, the political pundits on Friday who were offering quickie analysis about Stevens’ retiring were focused more on whether or not the GOP caucus in the Senate would use the filibuster to prevent any Obama from being approved, and less on whom he might actually nominate.

THE IDEA BEING that unless Obama came up with the type of person that Republicans would have picked themselves if John McCain had won the presidential election, he wasn’t going to get his choice.

Which means Wood might very well dread the idea of a Supreme Court nomination because it would put her at the epicenter of an upcoming political storm that will come right in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 elections.

It won’t help that Wood is perceived in the federal appeals court as being an “intellectual counterweight" (to steal the words of legal observer Neil A. Lewis) to judges like Richard Posner (whom some conservatives say is a more appropriate choice for a Supreme Court nomination).

She also has the fact that she got her appeals court post by nomination from then-President Bill Clinton.

THERE EVEN ARE those people who say that picking Wood would mean giving the court an all-time high of three female judges, which they argue is the exact opposite of what Obama should be trying to do – which is to come up with such a conventional choice that his logic would appear boring to many.

Then again, I literally heard one pundit point out that the high court has six Catholics, and Stevens was the only WASP – implying we need another white man.

Ultimately, this pick is going to come down to how bold a thinker Barack Obama truly is.

No matter how much the ideologues want to rant and rage the Obama is a “socialist,” the truth is that he can be so eager at times to try to build some sort of concensus that he’s going to offend everybody – particularly those people who are convinced that he should take advantage of these last few months when there will be a sizable majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

THAT KIND OF logic might offend the ideologues and persuade them to filibuster. But I am inclined to think that those people who use the “f-word” so freely don’t truly understand what they are talking about. I’d also like to think that the more reasonable of those in the Republican caucus (such as the nearly 30 GOPers who ultimately backed Sotomayor for the high court) will prevail, and we will get some sort of discourse on the issue in coming months.

Whether or not Wood gets the nomination, we ought to note the departure of Stevens, whose retirement announcement caused us to see repeated showings of his 2005 “first pitch” duties prior to a game at Wrigley Field – where he did a very convincing impersonation of a Chicago Cubs pitcher.

Even if the thought of rooting for the Cubs makes you nauceous, you have to respect someone who has followed one ball club for that many decades, and literally was in the stands (he was 12) the day that Babe Ruth hit that home run off Charlie Root to help the Yankees beat the Cubs in Game Three of the 1932 World Series (the Yanks ultimately swept that series in four straight games).

It is hard to get more old-timey Chicago than that.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I envy freelance writer Bill Barnhart, whose biography of John Paul Stevens, entitled An Independent Life, is being prepped for release ( at just the right moment – it will be launched with an event May 20 at the Billy Goat Tavern.

Diane Wood has strong Chicago credentials (, but can she top this moment (,0,2131726,full.story) from Stevens’ childhood?

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