By Frank James
President Barack Obama reacted to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' unsurprising retirement announcement by praising the jurist's qualities and outlining the kind of characteristics he'll be seeking in the person he chooses to replace Stevens.
Justice Stevens has courageously served his country from the moment he enlisted the day before Pearl Harbor to his long and distinguished tenure on the Supreme Court. During that tenure, he has stood as an impartial guardian of the law. He has worn the judicial robe with honor and humility. He has applied the Constitution and the laws of the land with fidelity and restraint. He will soon turn 90 this month, but he leaves his position at the top of his game. His leadership will be sorely missed, and I just had an opportunity to speak with him and told him on behalf of a grateful nation, that I thanked him for his service.
As Justice Stevens expressed to me in the letter announcing his retirement, it is in the best interests of the Supreme Court to have a successor appointed and confirmed before the next term begins. And so I will move quickly to name a nominee, as I did with Justice Sotomayor.
Once again, I view the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among my most serious responsibilities as President. And while we cannot replace Justice Stevens' experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities -- an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people. It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. Much like they did with Justice Sotomayor, I hope the Senate will move quickly in the coming weeks to debate and then confirm my nominee so that the new Justice is seated in time for the fall term.
"A keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people" would be the president's way of saying he'll be seeking someone with "empathy" without using the "e" word.
After former Justice David Souter announced his retirement, Obama used that word to describe a quality he'd be seeking in a replacement. Conservatives attacked him, accusing Obama of wanting someone who wouldn't decide cases on the merits of legal arguments and but on desired outcomes.
Ever since that hubbub, the president has steered clear of that word. But he standing fast on wanting someone with the quality that word represents.