IRARELY agree with Dahlia Lithwick, the legal analyst with an almost reflexive aversion to anything right of center. In fact, the only thing we share is a floral moniker.

But I did a double-take when I caught her recent Newsweek essay that approvingly described retiring Justice John Paul Stevens as an "89- year-old white Protestant guy."

She wasn't actually singing the praises of WASPs, who, as one of my colleagues just reminded us, are among the last acceptable targets of derision in this evolved society. She was simply pointing out that the Supreme who fought the longest and hardest to defend liberal shibboleths like affirmative action, legal abortion and the rights of criminals was without an "exotic" ethnic identity. He was merely the pale fellow in the bow tie.

Until a few decades ago, this wouldn't have even been a noteworthy observation. But now, in this celebrated post-white culture where diversity is a sacrament and conformity a sin, the way we look, pee and love has taken on a life of their own, to the point that we now demand that all our institutions, both public and private, reflect - in every last instance, 24/7 - the rainbow that is us. Or U.S.

No problem with that if it happens naturally, where you discover that, hey, that eminently qualified judge you nominated to the federal bench just happens to have grown up speaking Chinese. Cool!

But let's take up the next philosophical and moral debate along these lines: Is it as bad to give someone special preferences because of their color and gender as it is to keep someone out of the loop because of them?

But while most liberals think that the second part of this formula is discrimination, they embrace the first as remedial justice.

Which brings me back to. . . the justice.

John Paul Stevens was nobody's idea of a liberal when he was nominated to the bench in 1975. Gerald Ford's pick was an old-school Republican with predictably middle-of-the-road views on race, crime, sex and federal power. Which means he was significantly to the right of most of his colleagues, including New jersey native William Brennan.

But appearances can often deceiving, which is why they are also mostly irrelevant. Brennan was appointed by Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president who once observed that the worst mistake he ever made was nominating Earl Warren to the court.

Both GOP appointees, white (and in the case of Brennan, Catholic) men, were the engines of the Warren Court, which pushed the country - frequently against the popular will - to the far-left reaches of criminal and social jurisprudence.

(And, irony of ironies, one of the strongest advocates for abortion was Brennan, so there goes your myth about the monolithic Catholic cabal.)

Then you have the first woman on the court, the pragmatic Sandra Day O'Conner, who preferred the middle to either extreme and whose decisions on gender and race were considerably less liberal than those of elder statesman Brennan.

All of this is to point out that picking people because of their external qualities makes no sense when you can end up getting the results you want from people who don't look like they're likely to give them to you.

There turns out be no reliable Supreme Court barometer by which to predict how someone will vote over time. So the fact that we keep on trying to pacify interest groups by throwing around words like "empathy" and "diversity" is an example of how tone deaf we really are.

John Paul Stevens may not have started out as a liberal, but he certainly ended up one. From his angry dissent in Bush v. Gore to his bitter scolding in the Citizens United case, Stevens showed that an old white male Protestant could get very angry at what he considered to be conservative mischief.

HIS DEFENSE of a teenage girl against a strip searches (calling it "an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude") and his joust with Chief Justice Roberts about affirmative action (finding it a "cruel irony" that Brown was being used to exclude race as a factor in school-districting decisions) are examples of just how liberal a bow-tied white guy can be.

Which means you don't need to look like Cochise to be able to walk a mile in his moccasins.

POT, PART II: After last week's column on marijuana, I got a torrent of e-mail along the lines of "pot is no worse than alcohol" and "no one ever hurt anybody while stoned." Then I read Stephanie Farr's DN article describing the sentencing of Joseph Genovese, who killed one woman and seriously injured another when he slammed into them with his car after a Phillies game. Genovese was, gee, "an avid marijuana smoker who regularly drove stoned."
 

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Listen to her Thursdays on WPHT/1210 AM, 10-midnight.