Supreme Court Handicapping

There seems to be a remarkable consensus that Obama’s shortlist for the Supreme Court consists of just three people: Elena Kagan, Diane Wood, and Merrick Garland. What’s more, the conventional wisdom seems to be slowly congealing that Kagan is the favorite because she’s a bit more centrist than the others and Obama doesn’t really need a big fight in the Senate this summer.

But is that really true? To the extent that he takes politics into account with his choice, it seems to me that Wood is the best choice. The tea party fringe is going to find some reason to go ballistic over anyone Obama picks, so choosing a centrist doesn’t really help him there. All three are well enough qualified that they’re almost certain to be confirmed, so a centrist doesn’t really help him there either. But what could help him is building on the progress he made in closing the “enthusiasm gap” by passing healthcare reform last month. The liberal base is starting to get a little more excited about things these days, and nominating a liberal justice — which shows that Obama is willing to nominate a liberal justice — could (a) get lefty juices flowing, (b) potentially cause conservatives to score an own goal if some of their number go overboard on the attacks, and (c) do it all without really affecting the independent vote since Wood is, after all, perfectly well qualified.

Plus she got her law degree from the University of Texas! I still haven’t forgiven UT for this — and I probably never will — but at least it’s west of the Mississippi. Fight the league, President Obama!

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