Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced this morning that he is retiring at the end of the current term. The retirement gives President Barack Obama an ideal opportunity to honor the commitment to change that was the hallmark of his presidential campaign. He can and should nominate a trial lawyer to the high court.
The current court is composed almost exclusively of lawyer's whose blood runs pure blue with Ivy League pedigrees, big law experience and years laboring in the vineyards of the nation's federal appellate courts. Altogether absent from the court is anyone with substantial experience in the trenches where legal abstractions have the most direct impact on the lives of ordinary Americans.
Clearly, experience in the appellate courts, brilliant performance at a status- factory law school and intimate familiarity with the levers of political power are important perspectives to have on the nation's highest court. But we now have nine such Solons presiding. Is it too much to ask for one lawyer who wakes up every morning, looks a frightened client in the eye, and says, simply, "I'll do my best"?
The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59. All are brilliant and accomplished. None are cut from the cloth, however, of which ordinary Americans stitch their coats of many colors.
I often wince when I read high-court decisions. They sometimes read as though they were written by tourists beholding the suffering of others. Such legal theories as the harmless error doctrine, qualified immunity and the explosion in exceptions to the Fourth Amendment have the redolence of a Wall Street bailout: Power wins. The Government, like Wall Street, is too big to fail. Hence, legal doctrine deserts those in need in favor of those in need of deceit to remain in control. The courts drift further and further away from the promise of liberty, and the people, like sheep, are expected simply to bleat in unison that all is well in this the best of all possible nations.
Except we know that this isn't paradise. It is no longer even much of a city on a hill. The American Century ended long ago with a thud. Now even the American dream is becoming, for many, a cynical farce. We do not need another Supreme Court justice who has grown fat, sassy, and insulated from the raw emotions most Americans struggle with -- fear, need, and, yes, sometimes fury. What we need is a lawyer who has spent a career representing ordinary people in ordinary trouble.
President Obama energized a nation with a promise of change. He stunned those of us who assumed we would never live long enough to see a person of color in the White House. He energized young people who had never before participated in the political process. He wooed those accustomed to playing the games politicians play with promises of change. It is time to redeem those promises with the next Supreme Court nomination.
I nominate a Connecticut lawyer named Bill Bloss. He is a partner at Koskoff, Koskoff and Beider, in Bridgeport. His is a first-rate intellect. He has appeared in courts high and low. And he represents people from all walks of life. Rather than dipping into the star-studded ranks of the law's glitterati, the president needs to look among the nation's working lawyers for brilliance acquainted with sorrow and grief. There is no time like the present for the president to promote change.
Don't like Bloss? Okay, then. Who is your nominee? Let's name names and force change!