Quietly and steadily, President Obama has pursued two very different legacy goals that stand to benefit the nation for decades: he has diversified the judiciary at its highest levels and set new fuel emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Consider the first. In two Supreme Court appointments, Mr. Obama has raised the number of women justices to its highest level: three out of nine. And of the 97 nominees for federal judgeships confirmed so far under his administration, nearly half (46) are women— another record. He has nominated more ethnic minorities (African Americans, Latinos and Asians) to federal judgeships than any other president, and of the three openly gay judges he has nominated to the federal bench, one already has been confirmed. What difference will a more diverse judiciary make? Greater fairness is the goal, but if nothing else, this diversity ensures that judges are more representative of the population. If juries should be diverse to improve justice, then so should judges.
Second, the new rules for heavy-duty vehicles (from school buses to garbage trucks and tractor-trailers) will reduce emissions by 2018 while improving fuel efficiency by as much as10 to 20 percent, depending on the vehicle. Meeting the higher standards will be costly, but that cost can be offset within just one or two years by savings at the gas pump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expect additional benefits from the program: enhanced U.S. competitiveness and job creation, improved energy security, lowered costs in transporting goods to consumers and businesses and growth in clean energy.
While neither of these solves the problems of the U.S. economy or creates enough jobs to alleviate unemployment, these are two marks of progress worth celebrating in a difficult, unyielding time.