April 23rd, 2010
12:01 PM ET

Supreme Court Poker

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Oh, what to do if you are a reform-minded president with a Supreme Court nominee to pick. Do you go with the experienced jurist who shows up with a deep knowledge of the law, a well-thumbed pocket guide to the Constitution, and perhaps his or her own black robe to help cut expenses? Or do you select the outsider; the common sense Solomon of the people who may not know that much about the law, but is willing to think progressively and by golly knows when someone is dealing from the bottom of the deck?

That’s just one dilemma facing President Obama as he begins playing solitaire with the big stack of resumes on his desk. And if you’ve ever tried to hire anyone for anything, you can imagine how tough his job is.

If you sign up the wrong teenager for the late shift at Dairy Queen and he starts botching the Blizzards, you can just sack him, and honestly what’s a little melted ice cream? But picking the wrong Supreme Court Justice is like hiring someone in France; once he or she is on the books, it’s pretty much for life. Or until that person quits, and you don’t hear of many Supreme Courters getting better offers.

The issue is complicated further for Mr. Obama by precisely the question with which I started. With all the broad reforms he promised as a candidate, it is understandable if the liberal wing of his party is looking for a nominee who’d make Michael Moore look like William F. Buckley. The Dems still control both houses of Congress for the moment. They may never have a better chance for putting their kind of champion onto the bench.

On the other hand, swinging hard left on this choice would further shred the president’s already tattered relations with Republicans, and if his party gets hammered this fall, he might want some goodwill from the other side of the aisle.

It really is like a gambler calculating his cards against his cash. If he thinks he won’t get re-elected or might not even run (stranger things have happened,) he might stack up his chips and go for the legacy now. But that’s putting a lot on the draw of one card. And there are many hands yet to be played.

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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

Filed under: Raw Politics • Supreme Court • Tom Foreman
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