Barack Obama small President Barack Obama.jpgThe current New Yorker has an interesting piece by Jeffrey Toobin on President Obama’s judicial picks. Toobin took part in a live chat about the piece at NewYorker.com right now earlier today if you’re interested. (Try not to crash their website.).
UPDATE: The chat’s quite interesting. Toobin reveals why he likes Justice Souter best and answers this young wannabe judge’s question:

11:31 Guest: I’m a 25 year old law student, I want to be a judge, and my roommate smokes pot. How worried should I be? Do you think people will still care when I’m older?

11:32 Jeffrey Toobin: Don’t inhale! I’m kidding. I don’t think it will make a bit of difference. Our president has more or less admitted he was a pretty big pothead in his day, and it’s been a non-issue. Certainly the fact that your roommate smokes — not you — is irrelevant.

Toobin’s piece is available online to non-subscribers here. If you don’t feel like clicking through seven pages, here’s the ATL reader’s digest version:
Jeffrey Toobin small CNN New Yorker legal lawyer Above the Law blog.jpg

  • Aging liberal judges hung on through the Bush era, but once a Dem took over, they were ready to hang up their robes. Additionally, since 2006, Senator Patrick Leahy has prevented Bush’s nominees from getting through the Judiciary Committee. Now vacancies abound in the federal judiciary.

  • Bush kicked ass in choosing judges; Obama is taking his sweet time. In the first eight months of their respective terms, Bush nominated 52 judges while Obama has chosen 17.
  • Obama says he’s looking for “experiential diversity” in his judicial nominations: “not just judges and prosecutors but public defenders and lawyers in private practice.” But his first batch of nominees are mainly former judges, like SCOTUS justice Sonia Sotomayor and Indianapolis federal district judge David Hamilton, nominated by Obama to the Seventh Circuit.
    More bullets, after the jump.

  • Obama hoped to govern in a post-partisan age and has so far chosen judges who are middle of the road in terms of their judicial views. That hasn’t worked, though. A “conventional, qualified, and undramatic” choice like David Hamilton faced major opposition from Republicans.
  • Judicial nomination gridlock continues. Republicans in the Senate have refused to vote on anyone but Sotomayor.
  • Hey judge wannabes, we hope you’re friends with former Skadden partner Preeta Bansal. Now at the OMB, she drew up Obama’s initial list of nominees for judicial positions when he was running for president.
  • There’s a lot of other stuff — it’s a long piece — but basically Toobin crafts an argument that Obama’s judicial picks ain’t very liberal. And that’s due in part to Obama’s opposition to the political process unfolding in the judicial branch: Political battles should be won during elections, not in the courts. Read the piece, and its definition of the “new liberalism” as exemplified by Obama, here.
    One thing we found fun: more detail on the path that could have taken Obama to One First Street instead of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We’ve noted Obama as the “man who got away” from the justices before. Toobin has more on the Supreme Court route that Obama could have taken:

    As the outgoing president of the Harvard Law Review, in 1991, Obama could have had his pick of judicial clerkships. “I asked him to apply to clerk for me,” Abner Mikva, a former federal appeals-court judge in Washington, told me. “I was a feeder. At the time, I was sending clerks to work for Brennan, Marshall, Stevens, and Blackmun. I don’t have any doubt that Obama would have got a Supreme Court clerkship if he wanted one.”
    But Obama decided against taking any clerkship and instead moved back to Chicago, where he joined a small law firm, started teaching law at the University of Chicago, and laid the groundwork for a political career.

    Instead of joining the ranks of the Elect, he gets to choose their bosses. Not a bad trade-off.
    Bench Press [The New Yorker]


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