The Corner

Is the Conventional Wisdom Wrong on Obama’s SCOTUS pick?

Like most of the blogosphere and broader political media, I figured President Obama would choose a relative-centrist like Kagan or Garland for the Stevens seat on the Supreme Court. My thinking was that the president had too many fights left to pick with the Senate this year to burn off the whole summer in a nomination battle. Moreover, a pick like Kagan would get the president 80 percent of what he wanted on policy (Kagan would be a reliable liberal vote on social issues) while putting the Senate GOP in an awkward spot politically. If they made too much of a fuss over Kagan — who is liked and respected by key Republicans and Federalist Society types — Democrats could and no doubt would hammer the GOP with more “party of no” rhetoric.

But Christina Bellantoni at TPM has it from an administration official that the president feels no pressure to pick from the center-left. Obama, the official says, feels “liberated” by his certitude that Republicans will fight whomever he nominates:

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person’s ideological leanings, and in some ways “that realization is liberating for the president” to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC.

In comments that are at odds with the conventional wisdom about what Obama needs to do to make sure the Senate confirms his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, a White House official involved in the confirmation process tells TPMDC that the President isn’t taking a cautious approach to selecting a nominee. Despite having one less Democrat in the Senate than when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last year, the administration isn’t limiting itself to reviewing only centrist candidates for the court vacancy, the official said.

“It doesn’t matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big ‘ol fight over it. So he doesn’t have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns,” the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct “anything of consequence” put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. “The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right,” the official added.

It is troubling that the White House is thinking this way, because I’m not sure the Senate GOP is. Senate Republicans should and will use the nomination to present their case for judicial restraint and Constitutional fidelity on the high court. But I doubt they’re ignorant of the need for a proportional response. A Kagan or Garland confirmation battle would look, I figure, a lot like the Sotomayor hearings. Hearings for Diane Wood, Harold Koh, or Pamela Karlan, on the other hand, could range from ugly to Biblical.

But the Obama administration seems to think it doesn’t matter just how liberal their liberal nominee is. They’re looking for a fight no matter what — which virtually guarantees that they’ll get one.


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