The Case for Diane Wood on the Supreme Court

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens—or a more ideal addition to the Supreme Court—than Diane P. Wood, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, where Stevens once served with distinction. Wood has been to the Seventh Circuit what Stevens has been to the Supreme Court—a counterweight to conservative fellow jurists. But she, like Stevens, is no ideologue, and is held in high esteem by her conservative colleagues.

When Wood, a Clinton appointee, joined the Seventh Circuit in 1995, then–chief judge Richard A. Posner, a Reagan appointee, praised her at her induction ceremony as “a judge with a broader horizon than any who has ever sat in this or in most American courts.” Posner, who, like Wood, came to the Seventh Circuit from the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, elaborated: “We’re getting a judge who from college days has pursued a profound interest in foreign languages, culture, and law, a judge who knows French, German, and Russian, who has used this knowledge as a lawyer for the State Department, as a law professor specializing in international trade law, and latterly as head of the [Justice Department’s] Antitrust Division’s international operations.” Even in the heartland, said Posner, an international perspective is important because it “may insulate us from the complacent belief that our answers are the best or the only ones, and may encourage that skepticism and anti-dogmatism that are the defining traits of our greatest judges.”

She has been unusually effective at building consensus with colleagues of all philosophical stripes. Case in point: in 2008, Wood filed a carefully reasoned dissent from an opinion in which two of her conservative colleagues held that a condominium association hadn’t violated fair-housing laws by prohibiting Jewish residents from putting mezuzas on their front doors. In view of her dissent, the Seventh Circuit granted an ++en banc++ [[]] rehearing in 2009 and unanimously adopted her view of the matter. The unanimity was remarkable for an en banc decision, but, more remarkably, the opinion was joined by the judges who originally decided the case the other way—Frank Easterbrook, a Reagan appointee, and William J. Bauer, a Nixon appointee. (In an interview this week, Bauer described the en banc opinion as “profoundly more intelligent than the position I previously espoused.”)

Wood, incidentally, is not Jewish, but Protestant—which might be a plus in some circles, given that she would replace the only Protestant on the court. Perhaps more important from the standpoint of diversity, like Stevens but unlike all current members of the court, she is not an Ivy Leaguer. She received both her undergraduate and legal education at the University of Texas.

Wood’s proven record of sound reasoning and consensus building as an appellate judge renders her the best in a stellar field from which President Obama will select Stevens’s successor.

Warden is director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.