It was announced today that Justice John Paul Stevens plans to retire from the Supreme Court some time this summer. On the subject of Justice Stevens’s legacy, former law clerk (and Princeton University Press author!) Christopher Eisgruber cited his extraordinary career, “He will be remembered as a champion of the dignity of the individual and as a defender of the rule of law.”
“He is also special for another reason,” says Eisgruber, “He was appointed by a president who deliberately sought a non-partisan nominee with appeal across party lines.” And, according to Eisgruber, for this reason, the history behind Justice Stevens’s appointment could provide a model for President Obama’s next move.
“Barack Obama has indicated a desire to appoint justices who diversify the Court and have bipartisan appeal,” explains Eisgruber. “However, in today’s polarized atmosphere, he will find that difficult to do.”
So, what will happen, now that the “The Nine” have become “The Eight” again? Eisgruber offers some prescriptions for a healthier appointments process in his recently published book THE NEXT JUSTICE: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process. He suggests Senators need to identify a nominee’s judicial philosophy and to do so the confirmation process must be reimagined.
“Senators now struggle to devise questions that will trick a reluctant nominee into divulging his or her views,” says Eisgruber. “They would be better off investigating nominees the same way that presidents do, on the basis of their records and reputations.”
He also notes that it is important that the judicial system and the confirmation process remain transparent to the American people. “Until Americans develop a better understanding of what justices do, there is little chance that they will have a meaningful debate about who should serve on the court,” says Eisgruber. “And at a time when the Court is sharply divided and the Senate is heavily polarized, that debate is urgently needed.”