Criteria for Serving as Supreme Court Justice

Here are President Barack Obama’s (D) criteria for his nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

…judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand….

So far, so good. But.

…a judge who knows that “justice is not about abstract legal theory, not some footnote in a dusty casebook.”


It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.

In other words, Obama still is looking to emphasize empathy over law. He wants the superior wisdom of the wise Latina. He wants the Constitution creatively interpreted and updated. He wants a Justice who agrees with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that the Constitution is alterable because it lives through judicial rulings. He wants a Justice who agrees with Chief Justice John Roberts that enacted law is accessible to wholesale rewriting in order to arrive at something then worthy of application.

He does not want a Justice who recognizes that the Constitution lives through Article V and that Constitutional amendments and statutes and their changes are political rulings accessible only to We the People and our elected representatives.

He does not want a Justice who will adhere to his oath of office, which requires the Justice to defend and uphold the Constitution rather than to change it, an oath that also requires the Justice to understand and apply only the text of the Constitution and of enacted law, as they are written.

I agree with some, including Obama now, that the Senate has an obligation to consider his nominee(s), even in the last year of his term—a time frame Obama and his fellow Democrats have said should be exempt from Supreme Court nominee consideration. But the Senate has no obligation to rubberstamp Obama’s nominee, and any nominee who meets these criteria is unfit to serve as any sort of judge, much less a Supreme Court Justice.

Full stop.

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