With big issues working their way toward the Supreme Court on such vital issues as health care reform, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and police stops of undocumented immigrants, liberals need to be on guard, writes longtime court-watcher Emily Bazelon for the New York Times. Sure, there are solid progressives, such as Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But frequent swing vote Anthony Kennedy, while he may side with liberals on occasion, has a voting record on par with Ronald Reagan.
But the biggest danger for the left is its lack of depth. For the past 30 years, most Supreme Court justices have come from the federal appeals court, and Republican presidents have done a much better job of appointing young appellate judges—since 1981, Republicans have appointed 41 judges under 45 years old, versus just 10 by Democrats. Obama hasn't appointed one. And fearful of confirmation fights, even with a Democrat-controlled Senate, Obama has left more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench—a record—for the past two years.