President Obama’s appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court this past summer was hailed as a landmark moment in Supreme Court history as Justice Sotomayor became the first Latina on the Court. But looked at in a different light, Justice Sotomayor’s appointment just moved the Court back to where it was with respect to diversity. From the time Justice Ginsburg joined the Court in 1993 to Justice Alito replacing Justice O’Connor in 2006, the Court had only six white males, the fewest in the Court’s history (other than when it only had five members in 1789). Justice Alito replacing Justice O’Connor brought that number back up to seven, but Justice Sotomayor restored the previous level of diversity by replacing Justice Souter.
But now, with this morning’s speculation that Justice Stevens might be moving toward retiring this coming summer (he has apparently hired only one clerk for fall 2010 when he normally has hired all four by now), it appears that President Obama might soon have another opportunity to replace a white man on the Court. Some argued that he had no choice but to nominate someone who was not a white man when he had to replace Justice Souter. But now, if he gets to replace Justice Stevens this summer, whether President Obama is truly committed to diversity will show through. Appointing another woman, and in particular another woman of color, when he doesn’t have the same kind of public pressure to do so would be a great, albeit still incomplete, step to diversifying the nation’s highest court.
– David S. Cohen