Liberals have had Scalia envy for nearly a quarter-century, only to be let down. They considered President Bill Clinton’s selections of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer to be satisfactory but not satisfying, much like the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor last year. While Justice Ginsburg came closest to what they were looking for, given her record of advocacy for women’s rights, she disappoints them on the death penalty and in other cases.

Richard Primus, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said conservatives did more to influence Republican nominations because the energy on court advocacy is on the right, which still resents rulings that barred school-sponsored prayer, legalized abortion and upheld some affirmative action programs. “It still lives off of that anger, and nothing of that sort of fire has really taken hold on the other side,” Professor Primus said.

The left, by contrast, focuses on guarding the status quo, a less animating mission. “The quote-unquote liberals are defending the New Deal and Warren court inheritances,” said Bruce Ackerman, a constitutional scholar at Yale Law School.