Supreme Court Nominees

University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill wrote a good piece published a few hours ago for CNN with good observations on Obama’s upcoming selection for the Supreme Court and candid commentary on whether the University of Maryland Law School would hire her again today:

I sometimes marvel that I probably couldn’t get hired at my law school today.

Fifteen years ago I was a young civil rights lawyer with a strong litigation record and a few good ideas about the relationship between racial diversity on courts and principled decision-making who wanted to enter law teaching.

My colleagues at the University of Maryland Law School took a chance in hiring me — a chance that I would write well and consistently, and that my litigator’s communication skills would translate well in the classroom.

Today, they’d never hire me. Standards have shifted, my law school has moved up in the rankings, and now our faculty rarely even interview candidates who haven’t already published a well-placed article. In just a little over a decade, the formula for hiring law professors, especially at the most competitive schools, has shifted irrevocably.

Her point? The same is true on the Supreme Court. State court judges, law professors, criminal defense attorneys, civil trial lawyers need not apply over the last twenty years. Only appellate judges have been nominated.

Professor Ifill argues that this is largely a bad thing. I agree. But, if the nominee is not a federal circuit court judge, there is going to have to be strong proof that the nominee is (1) an intellectual heavyweight, and (2) someone who is a demonstrated progressive. With respect to the latter point, Obama knows how important this seat is to the balance of the court ideologically (read: politically) and cannot allow to happen to progressives what happened to conservatives with David Souter.