The sad news about the illness of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, bad enough in itself, suggests that President Obama may have more important matters added to his already full platter of state business.

If the president has the need to appoint a new justice — perhaps more than one — he has an opportunity to assure the present liberal-conservative balance (imbalance), but not to change it. The aging Justice John Paul Stevens and the restless Justice David Souter might also leave the court during President Obama’s first term. He then could appoint three solid, young, progressive justices to balance the four adamantly conservative justices now sitting. Justice Anthony Kennedy would remain the swingman.

Given his strong majority in the Senate, President Obama should feel free to appoint strong, smart, influential progressive justices — provided they’re competent, of course — to shape the country’s history well into the 21st century. He might also consider a non-lawyer, a constitutional scholar with a serious, impressive record, to add a unique feature to the court. Think about that!

Supreme Court justices, appointed for life, will affect our nation’s history longer and more profoundly than Cabinet appointees and other presidential assistants whose positions and roles now dominate the news. But if it is change he and we want, it is time to plan for new federal court appointments.