Justice John Paul Stevens is retiring soon and the best candidate for filling his judicially Shaq-sized shoes is a Chicagoan named Diane Wood.
Stevens' retirement will leave several gaps on the Supreme Court. He's a liberal on a court that President Obama would like to turn left. He’s only the Midwesterner among The Nine. And he’s the court’s last remaining WASP, which is important, if you believe in ethnic balance as much as our multi-cultural president seems to.
Wood, a judge on the 7-th Circuit Court of Appeals, can fill all those requirements. Plus, she’d be the court’s third woman, an all-time record.
Wood taught at the University of Chicago at the same time as Obama, so her legal style has been shaped by the law school’s sharply competitive repartee. She was appointed to the 7th Circuit by Bill Clinton, as a counterweight to those haughty conservative brainiacs, Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook. As a judge, Wood supported partial-birth abortion and opposed an Indiana law requiring women to undergo counseling before ending a pregnancy.
She also slapped down George Ryan’s appeal of his prison sentence, and stood up for Rod Blagojevich’s right to take as long as he damn well pleased to review clemency requests.
But, most importantly, Wood lives in Chicago. (OK, she lives in Hinsdale, but close enough.) As a transplant from New Jersey, she’s not as much of a homey as Stevens, whose family built the Stevens Hotel and sent him to the Lab School. But we can at least assume she knows that JAG doesn’t just stand for Judge Advocate General, that LSD is not just a hallucinogenic drug and that ketchup is not a condiment.
As a Chicago president, Obama owes us a Chicago justice. Stevens was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975 by the last Midwesterner in the White House, Gerald Ford., after following the same path as Wood -- U of C professor, 7-th Circuit judgeship. If Wood starts wearing a bow tie, no one will be able to tell the two apart.
Also, in a quirk of history, Stevens is the lone remaining Protestant on the Supreme Court. (A hundred years ago, all the judges were Protestant.) Wood could fill in for him there, too: she lives in the suburbs, plays oboe in the North Shore Chamber Orchestra and is on her third husband.
It’s hard to get much WASPier than that.