Obama legacy will be influenced by Supreme Court pick.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 2 2009 6:24 AM

Judgment Call

Barely past the 100-day mark in his Presidency, Barack Obama already has an opportunity to shape his legacy: The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box, and Los Angeles Times lead, and the New York Timesoff-leads, with speculation about the type of judge the president will appoint to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Obama will personally lead the search for a nominee, and his background as a constitutional law professor and community organizer is a likely influence behind his desire to appoint someone who will show "empathy" toward "people's hopes and struggles," as he said in yesterday's press briefing.

The NYT leads with a look at the U.S. government's outreach to Nawaz Sharif, the chief opposition to the Pakistani president. While the United States had avoided Sharif before due to his ties to Islamists, the Obama administration now views those connections as a useful way to prop up a government that is losing influence to Taliban insurgents. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are encouraging Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari to work together, although the two men are fierce rivals.

Appointing a Supreme Court justice gives the president a chance to leave a lasting impact on the judicial system, and Obama is under pressure to choose someone who is not only qualified but also symbolic. The papers are already speculating that he will lean toward a female or minority candidate, or possibly a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like former Justice Thurgood Marshall. There is a general consensus among the coverage that Obama could consider Sonia Sotomayor, a New York federal appeals court justice who would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice; Elena Kagan, the former Harvard Law School dean already tapped to be solicitor general; Stanford professor Kathleen Sullivan; or Diane Wood, an appellate judge from Chicago. The WP and NYT also make the stretch to suggest Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick as a contender with political and legal experience, after Obama admired a former governor who became chief justice on the campaign trail.

Conservative activists are already protesting the president's criteria for going "beyond what is necessary for choosing a justice," the WP reports. But perhaps Obama needn't worry too much: Sen. Lindsey Graham has already commented that the Democrats can't really "screw this up" unless the president nominates a radical or someone with a shady financial history.

All the papers front updates on the challenges ahead for Chrysler in the wake of the company's filing for bankruptcy protection. Dealerships are scrambling to find sources for customers' loans, and four plants have already shut down ahead of Monday's planned closure date. In its partnership with Chrysler, Fiat will try to streamline production costs, increase sales, and turn around the company's "battered image," says the LAT. Fortunately, Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne won the same fight when he took control of the Italian automaker five years ago. The WP profiles the Maryland-based great-grandson of Chrysler's founder, who has been cataloging the company's history for years with a museumlike display in the building that houses his furniture-making business. Lately, he has thrown all his effort into a letter-writing campaign to the president and others to save the ailing company. Meanwhile, the United Automobile Workers union is feeling pretty good about their unparalleled support in the bankruptcy proceedings beginning in New York; the Treasury Department will provide Chrysler's union members with retiree medical benefits and protection for their pension plans.

Swine flu stories move inside today in all the papers except the WP, which fronts news of school closures in Maryland. The LAT points out that closing the U.S.-Mexico border is unlikely to stop the spread of the virus, as past pandemics have proven. The WSJ points to a survey that shows Americans are avoiding public places like malls and sporting events, while in Mexico City, medical teams are going house to house to uncover new cases of the flu. In her NYT column, Gail Collins calls Vice President Biden "the perfect warning bell to show the White House when things are veering out of control" and "a kind of mental canary in the governmental mine shaft," following the frank concerns he expressed on the Today show yesterday about venturing onto airplanes, subways, and other enclosed places.

There is no word yet on whether the vice president will be tweeting from the White House's new Twitter account. Just in time to communicate news about the swine flu outbreak, the White House announced yesterday that it has joined Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.

A few months after the president announced his plans to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration is thinking about reinstating the controversial military courts there. Although the current administration would revise the military commission system, human rights groups are concerned it might still circumvent laws upheld in American courts. Others worry that trials would lack the power to convict suspected terrorists.

Across the pond, the WP reveals that British taxpayers have spent $900,000 in legal fees, covered by the government, on behalf of three associates of Osama Bin Laden who have been fighting extradition to the United States since 1998. The three suspects in the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania "have plodded through the British bureaucracy with no end in sight, undermining transatlantic cooperation on counterterrorism and highlighting how easy it can be for international terrorism suspects to elude the reach of U.S. prosecutors."

In the ongoing elections in India, Rahul Gandhi tries to cash in not on his dynastic legacy—as the fourth generation of a long-revered political family—but on his youth, according to the WSJ. The 38-year-old grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is up against candidates in their 70s and 80s at a time when people under the age of 40 make up 70 percent of the country's population.

The grass may actually be greener in front of foreclosed homes in California. With "a bit of water, a few chemicals, and the willing suspension of disbelief," a local entrepreneur is reviving dead lawns by painting them green in the hopes that this will help sell houses.

The WSJ surveys the betting field for today's Kentucky Derby. Most people place their bets on horses with catchy names. While their monikers don't say much about their chances for success, this year's pack may be worth a gamble, at least, with names like Recapturetheglory, I Want Revenge, and Chocolate Candy. TP has a soft spot for General Quarters.

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