The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, May 5:

After Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement, President Barack Obama made it clear what sort of replacement he wants. “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book,” said the president, who was president of the Harvard Law Review and taught law at the University of Chicago. To which anyone familiar with the history of the court can only say: Good luck with that.
Appointing a Supreme Court justice is a bit like raising kids: often rewarding but fraught with surprises and disappointments. No matter how carefully you instruct children or select nominees, they have minds of their own.
Dwight Eisenhower, who appointed California’s Republican Gov. Earl Warren in 1953, regretted the liberal record Warren compiled, calling that nomination “the biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made.” Richard Nixon thought Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun would be “strict constructionists,” but both voted to recognize a constitutional right to abortion.
Antonin Scalia has been as conservative as Ronald Reagan could have hoped, but Anthony Kennedy has not. President George H.W. Bush presumably didn’t expect Clarence Thomas to become best-known for his sphinxlike silence on the bench. Bill Clinton no doubt hoped that Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be more forceful leaders on the court than they have been.
Then there is Souter, who was chosen by a Republican president (the first Bush) but has generally voted with the court’s liberal wing — leading conservatives to vow, “No more Souters.” Despite his many years of service on courts in New Hampshire, no one knew what kind of justice he would be.
Sometimes appointees turn out differently than expected because they have to deal with issues and litigants they hadn’t confronted before. Sometimes their views change in line with changes in popular sentiment, which justices are not immune to. Sometimes they may be alienated by colleagues they were expected to agree with — as may have been the case with the introverted, mild-mannered Souter upon getting acquainted with the dramatic and acid-tongued Scalia.
Then there is the burden of being the last word on matters of profound importance. “When you put on the black robe, the experience is sobering,” said Justice Lewis
Just as presidents are shaped by the heavy responsibilities they assume, so are justices — in both cases, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
Given his legal background, Obama will probably take an especially strong interest in finding a nominee who will give him exactly what he wants on the court. Given the experience of his predecessors, he will probably be surprised only if he gets it.

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