Aftermath.

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A Supreme Court Fight Helps Democrats

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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President Barack Obama can make the fight over filling a Supreme Court vacancy a political winner for Democrats.

The debate about what to do with the slot vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend has already turned into a brawl. Republicans made an initial mistake by insisting they wouldn't even hold hearings on any Obama nominee. That alone has the potential to mobilize the Democratic left.

U.S. Supreme Court

But Obama will have to play the politics deftly. He doesn't have the luxury of tapping someone chiefly to excite his party's base because doing so would excite the Republican base too. Nor does the shrill politics of the situation let him choose a politician or a confidante, much as the High Court could use someone who understands the real world of politics.

Instead, he would be smart to select someone who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has been confirmed by the Senate before and would be a natural fit for the Supreme Court. No one could question the qualifications; this would set critics back on their heels.

One person could certainly check all those boxes: Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed for his current post by a 97-to-0 vote, was a top Justice Department official in the administrations of Obama and President George W. Bush, has argued more than two dozen cases before the Supreme Court, was on the Al Gore legal team in the 2000 election struggle and clerked for two prominent Republican judicial appointees, Appeals Court Judge Harvie Wilkinson and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. He'd also be the first Justice of Asian descent.

That touches a lot of bases. 

There are two reasons nomination politics should favor Democrats. One is the Republican threat to refuse even a hearing on an Obama nominee. Yhat violates most people's sense of fairness.

The other is more ideological. Some of the issues that have energized conservatives have lost some of their power to motivate voters. Gay marriage, in particular, is no longer terribly controversial. A middle course that leaves abortion rights in place with restrictions sits well with the public, giving worries among liberals that abortion rights could be overturned more motivating power than the lesser fear on the other side of greater liberalization. Even at a time when anti-immigration fervor runs high among conservatives, the politics of the issue favors Democrats. That's because it most strongly motivates Hispanic voters, a Democratic-leaning constituency.

Few potential nominees can match Srinivasan when it comes to assets that could be used to put Republicans on the defensive, including endorsements for his current post from prominent conservatives like the former solicitors general Theodore Olson and Ken Starr.

The diversity issue also carries political punch. Scalia had expressed the view that the court should have more of it, though he wasn't talking about the ethnic kind; all nine members attended law school at Harvard or Yale, and all are Catholic or Jewish. Stanford Law School, Srinivasan's alma mater, isn't exactly North Dakota State, but he's a Hindu.

Born in India, he immigrated to the United States as child. He has declared that his greatest achievement was playing point guard on a high school basketball team in Lawrence, Kansas with the future college and professional star Danny Manning. I won't try to handicap the politics of that.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net