Choose your own Supreme Court justice to succeed David Souter.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
May 6 2009 1:17 PM

Choose Your Own Supreme Court Justice

Out of our Top 20, whom do you like best?

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Martha Minow, 54, is a star legal academic at Harvard Law School and a leading expert on family law, a field she entered in 1980 despite being told it would stereotype her. "She helped bring alive the field," former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan (a fellow short-lister) said in a 1997 profile in the Boston Globe. Minow's interest in making sure that kids grow up in stable families, she explained in a 2001 op-ed, led her to become a plaintiff in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of a voter initiative in Massachusetts that tried to ban same-sex marriage. "Research makes it irrefutable that a definition of family founded solely on an official marriage of a man and a woman is out of touch with how people actually live," she wrote.

Minow has also been active in human rights, serving on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, which tried to understand whether the atrocities committed there in the 1990s could have been prevented, and helping to launch a program of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees called Imagine Coexistence, which assessed efforts to reintegrate refugees after violent ethnic conflict and produced a book.

Her latest book, Just Schools, is about how schools can pursue social equality and accommodate students from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. She talks about those themes here. As a teacher, she takes steps to make sure that all kinds of students speak up in class. "I am quite conscious to count seconds, usually 25 to 30, between raising a question and finding a volunteer," she told the New York Times in 2004. "Some people who take time to think might have better things to say. Women typically won't shoot up their hands first."

Minow is close to Obama, whom she mentored when he was a law student at Harvard. Her father, former FCC Commissioner Newton Minow, gave Obama his first legal job, hiring him as a Chicago law firm summer associate. She has been a strong backer of the president, but she also speaks with her own voice: In an op-ed in March, she warned the government to make sure it is strictly accountable for stimulus spending. She told Slate last year that she didn't think Obama would necessarily favor moderate judicial picks over strongly liberal ones. Her own motto, from Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked, is "remember they're human beings," referring to the people who come before courts. It's akin to Obama's declaration that he is looking for a justice who thinks about "how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives." (Disclosure: Minow also clerked for the late Judge David Bazelon, who was Emily's grandfather.)

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Teresa Wynn Roseborough, 50, is chief litigation counsel at MetLife Inc., leading a department of 62 associates and supervising MetLife's litigation activities worldwide. Her specialties include constitutional law, class actions, telecommunications, and government regulation law, and she has argued before state and federal courts as well as at the Supreme Court. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill law school in 1986, where she edited the law review.

In addition to her solid footing in the outside-the-beltway business community, Roseborough also has strong D.C. connections. She worked as one of the principal attorneys for the Gore campaign during the 2000 presidential election and has served on the board directors of the American Constitution Society with now-Attorney General Eric Holder. Roseborough served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department from 1994-96 and as a law clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens in 1987. In 2003, she was named by American Lawyer magazine as one of the 45 highest-performing members of the private bar under the age of 45.

If President Obama means what he says about wanting Supreme Court justices with dramatically different work experiences and backgrounds, Roseborough's non-Ivy, nonjudicial background might be very compelling. That she is whip-smart and an African-American woman are icing on the cake.

David Tatel, 67, sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, long considered a sort of feeder court for the Supreme Court. Before joining the federal bench, Tatel worked in civil rights, including a stint as director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He spearheaded programs to advance the rights of minorities and the poor through housing, voting rights, education, and employment litigation. He also served as director of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Office for Civil Rights in the Carter administration. At 67, Tatel is widely believed to be too old to be elevated to the high court, and the fact that he is a white male will hardly be an asset this time around. If tapped for a SCOTUS seat, Tatel would become the first blind justice.

Notable cases: Tatel has written several opinions that have gone on to become blockbusters at the Supreme Court, including an important test of the Voting Rights Act heard just last week. Tatel wrote 161 pages for a unanimous panel, upholding Section 5 of the act from a constitutional challenge. The Supreme Court has yet to decide that case. In 2005, he voted to uphold a lower court's contempt decision against New York Times reporter Judith Miller, finding the grand jury's need for Miller's testimony outweighed the burden of disclosure on newsgathering. He wrote, "[J]ust as attorney-client communications 'made for the purpose of getting advice for the commission of a fraud or crime' serve no public interest and receive no privilege … neither should courts protect sources whose leaks harm national security while providing minimal benefit to public debate." In a landmark environmental case from 2005, Tatel's dissent was vindicated when the Supreme Court found that the EPA had failed to comply with the mandate of the Clean Air Act when it refused to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In 2003, Tatel also dissented in an important war on terror case when he sided with those seeking, though a FOIA request, the names of post-9/11 detainees and their attorneys. Tatel, dissenting from the majority's opinion denying the request, wrote that the "court's uncritical deference to the government's vague, poorly explained arguments for withholding [information] as well as its willingness to fill in the factual and logical gaps in the government's case, eviscerates both FOIA itself and the principles of openness in government that FOIA embodies." (Disclosure: Tatel is an acquaitance of Dahlia Lithwick's.)

Lisa Madigan, 42, is a rising star in Illinois politics, a friend and former colleague of Barack Obama's from the Illinois state Senate, and the current attorney general of the state. She is said to be considering a run for governor, and the New York Times named her among a roster of down-the-road candidates for the first female president.

Consider this for Madigan's column: She successfully argued a case before the Supreme Court, the first attorney general to personally do so in 25 years—while seven months pregnant. The case, Illinois v. Caballes, gave police the authority to use drug-sniffing dogs on the outside of a stopped vehicle without a warrant or reason to suspect possession.

As Law.com notes, Madigan has other serious law-and-order bona fides, such as advocating for stricter supervision and registration of sex offenders, stronger methamphetamine laws, and scrutiny of the state's gaming industry. Prior to joining the state senate, Madigan specialized in employment law at a Chicago firm and as attorney general filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy in Grutter v. Bollinger. She also challenged former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's commutation of 32 death row inmates on legal grounds—and lost—and recently came under fire for not aggressively investigating 25 cases relating to a Chicago police commander accused of torture.