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Monday, April 12, 2010

Stevens Leaves Large Shoes to Fill

Justice Stevens’s announcement Friday that he will retire at the end of this term provides President Obama the rare opportunity to appoint two Supreme Court justices within his first term. Replacing Justice Stevens also presents the President with a great responsibility: filling the very large shoes left by a justice with a 35-year legacy of defending the personal freedoms and human dignity of everyday Americans. At the end of this term, the Court will lose not just an eloquent and outspoken defender of civil liberties, separation of powers, and access to justice, but also a master tactician who has often played a central role in forging coalitions on split decisions. Justice Stevens has often garnered the swing votes of other justices to join his defense of civil rights, environmental protections, and judicial oversight of executive power.

Justice Stevens’s retirement could not come at a more crucial time. Recent decisions of the Court in cases such as Citizens United are evidence of the Court’s increasingly pro-business agenda. Not shy about its lack of respect for precedent or its willingness to abandon principles of fundamental fairness, the Roberts Court has rewritten decades of law in order to protect powerful corporate interests at the expense of everyday Americans.

Without Justice Stevens’s strong, clear voice preserving the Constitution, personal freedoms, and separation of powers, the Court is all the more likely to move painfully and irrevocably rightward and away from the mainstream. The selection of Justice Stevens’s successor must not be rushed, or fall victim to partisan posturing. Americans deserve a fair and impartial justice who has a brilliant legal mind and is committed to defending the Constitution The President should pause, reflect, and carefully select a Justice who will stand up for everyday citizens, uphold core constitutional values, and promote equal justice for all, not just the powerful few. The Senate must look beyond politics and quickly confirm a qualified nominee. To do otherwise is to do a great disservice to the American people. We have lost too great a Justice; the stakes are simply too high.

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