What's the likelihood that 88-year-old John Paul Stevens will still be on the Court four years from now? He's as close as the Court gets to a real liberal.
Contrary to the press's conventional story that the Court has conservative and liberal wings, it really divides like this from right to center:
- Scalia, Thomas, Alito - hard right, no apologies, screw you
- Roberts - hard right pretending to be merely conservative
- Kennedy - conservative
- Breyer - centrist, pro-corporate
- Souter - centrist
- Stevens, Ginsburg - liberal, sort of
As Bill Mears says rather more elliptically, if McCain wins one term, expect a hard-right majority of at least five and probably six, which Kennedy is likely to follow to avoid irrelevancy. This would probably remain the case more or less for at least twenty years. Two terms would mean no centrist or tepid liberal wing at all.
If Obama wins, he probably cannot move the median of the Court at all. Instead, he can extend the current conservative balance and merely prevent it from lurching further to the extreme right. In a second term, he might possibly replace a conservative. Might.
(Yeah, and I won't bring the irrelevancy of Tony Rezko into this story even if someone else does me the favor of providing a canned non sequitur about him. This was bad journalism on Mears's part. It didn't belong in this story just because someone with no reputation said it.)