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In replacing Souter, how far left will Obama go?

He'll face pressure from his liberal base in his pick for the Supreme Court.

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The retirement of US Supreme Court Justice David Souter presents President Obama with a golden opportunity to make a lasting mark on American jurisprudence.

On one level, Justice Souter's retirement, expected in late June, will not significantly alter the balance of power between liberal and conservative wings on the high court. Though nominated to the court by a Republican president, the first President Bush, Souter turned out to be a reliable liberal vote.

But that does not mean Souter's replacement won't be significant. All eyes will be on Mr. Obama, as factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, and intellectual heft are considered. That Souter's replacement will fit into the liberal wing of the court goes without saying. But just how left-of-center Obama wants to go in his selection is an open question. Obama has disappointed his liberal political base before – most recently, in boosting his commitment to the war in Afghanistan – and the heat is already on to select a left-wing analog to Justice Antonin Scalia.

"He faces a lot of pressures, because the left will want him to anoint one of its own to solidify a new direction in the court," says Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. "Others will worry that that ignites a culture war that engulfs his presidency."


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