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Diana Shaw: A (Supreme Court) justice for all

Posted: April 12, 2010 4:04 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.
I'm going to miss Justice John Paul Stevens. Considering he's a Republican appointed to the bench in 1975 by Republican President Gerald Ford, you might be surprised. After all, I'm a lifelong Democrat.

You might also be surprised, from the constant comments regarding Stevens' "liberalism," that Stevens considers himself to be a Republican and a conservative as he approaches his 90th birthday.

That's fine with me. Stevens knows the difference between judicial philosophy and political ideology, and that's a difference we would all be wise to notice as we approach the nomination of his successor.

Stevens, a "conservative" jurist, tempers his personal inclinations with a reliance on precedent because he understands the ordinary people of this country need reliable principles to guide them. We shouldn't have to fear a Supreme Court that's fond of experiments, turning our lives upside down with each new president.

Even though Stevens is personally against the death penalty, he voted to uphold lethal injection in 2008, writing that his personal belief didn't "justify a refusal to respect precedents."

Let's compare that to the recent 5-4 decision in the recent Citizens United case about political contributions. The Republican-appointed, ideologically conservative majority did not even address the question before the court. Instead it chose to overturn precedent, declaring a field day for unlimited corporate political spending based on an expanded interpretation of the First Amendment.

It is no surprise it was Stevens who wrote a scathing decent. He said "a conservative judge is one who doesn't decide more than he has to in order to do his own job."

Pundits may call that liberal. I call it responsible, reasonable and patriotic.

As the nomination process commences, you'll be hearing a lot of whining and saber-rattling from those who wear the mantle of conservatism when it suits their purpose.

Remember when you hear that word "conservative" bandied about by ideological despots, that in the Citizens United case, Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy struck down the bipartisan McCain-Feingold provision that prohibited corporations (and unions) from electioneering 60 days before an election.

McCain-Feingold was crafted by your legislators, who live every day under the threat of political annihilation if they don't have access to humongous corporate financial support - with strings attached. They wanted to diminish those bonds so they might accomplish some genuine work for us. They hoped to get out from under the yoke of being bought. But the big spenders' tentacles found a way to bypass the good senators in a blatant display of judicial activism.

President Barack Obama is a Constitutional scholar. He says he will seek Stevens' traits in his successor. He says he will seek someone with "an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity and 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." That sounds like my kind of nominee.

The only filibustered Supreme Court nominee ever was Lyndon Johnson's Abe Fortas in 1968. However, when Democrats filibustered President George W. Bush's Appellate Court nominees a few years ago, Republicans demanded a simple up or down vote.

So when you see a bunch of political posturing coming from these same folks with regard to Obama's nominee, I hope you'll think of Stevens as a model and let our representatives know this is not the time to score political brownie points with their base. They need to have an up or down vote and be done with it.

As Obama once said, "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

Let's live by that creed when the White House gives us its nomination for Stevens' replacement.

Diana Shaw is an attorney, small business owner, Santa Clarita resident and Democratic candidate for Assembly in the 38th district. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among several Democratic writers.


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