Thursday, April 30, 2009

David Souter's Retirement the Left's Strategy?

Supreme Court justice David Souter, one of the committed liberals on the nation's highest court is stepping down. No illness, just a growing distaste for D.C., is the apparent reason. At only 69 years of age, Souter's retirement is coming at a very young age. So could there be a more tactical reason for his departure?

There are four reliable votes on the left and Souter is one of them. But history and polling trends may have the so-called progressives wondering if they're going to maintain control of the White House for more than one term. Gallup recently reported that President Obama's popularity at the 100 day mark of his term is the second lowest for an American President over the past 40 years. Only Bill Clinton, fresh off of his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military was lower, by just one point.

So, could Souter's exit be the start of an exodus into retirement for the other liberals on the high court? Ruth Bader Ginsberg is reported quite ill and might be force by her health to step down. That would leave Stevens and Breyer as liberal members on the court.

Souter's announcement, coupled with the surprise defection of Sen. Arlen Specter from the Republicans to the Democrats early this week, leads the pessimist in me to see a not so subtle pattern here. Specter sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. His defection also all but strips the Republicans in the Senate of any ability to hold up judiciary nominations, including that of Souter's and possibly Ginsberg's replacements. So what better time would there be than the next two years to stack the high court with young, committed liberals?

Clearing the aging progressives from the court and replacing them with jurists that can hold their spots on the bench for decades gives the left a very good chance of retaking control of the Supreme Court, should one of the conservatives have to step down in the next few years. Even if the GOP retakes control of the White House in 2012, it is unlikely that the GOP will get solid control of the Senate for several election cycles, meaning that the Democrats could force the appointment of a more moderate jurist by any new Republican president.

Only time will tell if Souter's early departure is about a growing distaste for Beltway politics, or a calculated attempt to wrest control of the court back to the left.


Angry American said...

This frightens me Chris. I think you are on to something.

Sam said...

Someone, I forget who, said that the switch by Arlen Specter, while bolstering their over all strength, actually weakened the strength of the Democrats on the judiciary committee. The reason for this is to break a filibuster on that committee, you must have at least one vote from the minority party, and they used to be able to count on Specter's vote but now they can't. I have no idea if this is true, but it's heartening if it is.