Gone is the “Great Dissent”

Justice John Paul Stevens announced last week that he will retire from the Supreme Court. A Gerald Ford appointee, Stevens has served since 1975, when a young Barack Obama was just entering high school.The president is being afforded a golden opportunity. Democrats hold a 59-41 majority in the Senate and outnumber Republicans 12-7 on the Judiciary Committee — which is chaired by Vermont’s own Patrick Leahy. Replacing Stevens with a liberal idealist won’t change the makeup of the Court; those dirty liberals aren’t trying to take your guns and euthanize your grandmother just yet.He may be a little old man in a colorful bow tie, but Justice Stevens has been the liberal stalwart of the Court for three and a half decades. He authored the dissent in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, arguing against the ban on homosexual scout members. He pulled no punches in his dissent in Bush v. Gore, bemoaning the majority for not having faith in Florida election officials.There is this right-wing fallacy that idealist liberal judges are activist, while strong conservative justices are all about the intent of the framers, and by activism, I mean injecting personal prejudice into constitutional interpretation. Judging from some of the decisions of the court, since Roberts has been a member, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which was 5-4 along ideological lines, wrecked decades of campaign finance reform. As Justice Stevens put it in his scathing dissent, “Five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”Without Stevens, who will deliver the Great Dissent? He’s the real Straight Talk Express, minus the growling and the jowls. In a recent piece in The New York Times, Stevens remarked that he didn’t like to do interviews because “you save a lot of time if you don’t.” Think about it — if the president nominates a moderate liberal or centrist, he’ll actually be moving the court further to the right. Who will be the ideological balance to Antonin Scalia? Or Clarence Thomas who, despite serving in the so called “black seat,” votes more like Strom Thurmond than Thurgood Marshall.The president shouldn’t bow to the conservatives who’ll never allow him to appoint someone as ideological as Thomas or Scalia. The Court needs a counterweight to the conservative bloc that has dominated for two decades. The Obama administration is on a hot streak. The president got his health care bill through Congress and signed a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.The president shouldn’t let the neverending threat of a filibuster deter him from making the right choice — or really, the left choice.Republicans aren’t going to like an Obama nominee unless his name is Ronald Reagan, so the administration might as well nominate a jurist who’s worth the fight.