Justice Souter announced yesterday that he will retire from the Supreme Court this summer. His departure creates President Obama’s first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, so I thought I’d ask Princeton University provost and legal scholar Christopher Eisgruber his thoughts on this momentous occasion. And as you’ll see, Eisgruber believes that this moment also offers a chance for a meaningful public dialogue about what works and what doesn’t work in the appointments process itself.
“President Obama has a special opportunity to reshape not only the Court but also the appointments process itself,” says Eisgruber. “Confirmation hearings have deteriorated into empty rituals of platitudes, anecdotes, and scandals and the time has come to re-focus the process on the judicial philosophies of the nominees.”
Over the course of his presidency, it is likely that President Obama will appoint several justices, and this first appointment will offer a glimpse into how he will shape the court according to Eisgruber.
“If President Obama serves two terms, he could become the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to appoint five or more justices—more than half of the entire Court,” explains Eisgruber. “We are about to find out if he will follow the example of George W. Bush and appoint staunch ideological allies, or if he wants to follow Eisenhower’s example and appoint moderates who are acceptable to a broader range of the country’s electorate.”
To learn more about what the confirmation hearings should look like, what questions we should expect our representatives to ask of the nominees, and more, I suggest you read Eisgruber’s book,The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process.