Hillary for the court

The departure of Justice Stevens from the court represents a double-barreled disaster for progressivism in America, following the passing of the irreplaceable Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

In the legislative branch, while the House has repeatedly passed major legislation, the Senate has become the graveyard for change. Republicans adopt obstructionist tactics on a magnitude unprecedented in the history of the nation. No single senator can replace the progressive principles, institutional savvy and personal relationships that made Sen. Kennedy so unique.

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Justice Stevens is to the Supreme Court what Kennedy was to the Senate. What made Kennedy different as a senator, and what makes Stevens different as a Supreme Court justice, is the ability to believe in policies of high principle while navigating the process of the institution, to build the widest possible majority for the best possible result.

The names being mentioned as possible replacements for Justice Stevens are all highly qualified. I would find some of them more exciting than others, but none of them possesses the combination of qualities that makes Justice Stevens so unique. This is meant as praise for Justice Stevens, not criticism of those being mentioned to replace him.

Secretary of State Clinton would be the Super Bowl choice for Supreme Court justice. Like Stevens, she would almost certainly evolve into a kind of shadow chief justice. She would be a leader and pivot point for court liberals in the same way Stevens is, while Chief Justice John Roberts appears determined to move the court to the right, and reject judicial precedent that conservatives disapprove of, instead of shaping consensus among justices.

Secretary Clinton possesses an exceptionally rare combination of qualities for a Supreme Court justice. She is a legal authority in her own right on various areas of the law, both domestic and international. She has very high-level experience in both the legislative and executive branches. She has a very diverse set of life experiences, and the breadth of having reached out to the full range of people and cultures that constitute the American people and the American experience.

While gender should not be dispositive, it would be a plus for the court to have a third female justice. While religion should not be dispositive, her Protestant faith would offer diversity and depth to the court.

Above all, Secretary Clinton offers the kind of interpersonal skills and political savvy that make Justice Stevens such an important justice, and so hard to replace.

Hillary Clinton has been a very good secretary of State, but there are others who would be equally good in that capacity. However, at a momentous and divisive time for the Supreme Court, replacing one of the most important justices in modern history, few potential nominees offer the probability of reaching historical greatness and influencing the court the way Secretary Clinton would.

The replacement for Justice Stevens may be the most historic and important nomination President Obama will ever make. Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court would be a consensus builder and majority maker. President Obama should swing for the fences and reach for the history books.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.