At his press conference Wednesday night, President Barack Obama rattled off the crises he’s had to deal with during his first 100 days in office, from wars to a potential pandemic. Now, on his 101st day, Obama has been handed a new task to top his agenda: picking a Supreme Court nominee.
News broke Thursday night that Justice David Souter plans to retire after this Supreme Court term ends in late June. That prospect offers Obama a chance, not to reshape the Court but to invigorate it with new blood. Obama will likely replace the mostly liberal Souter with another liberal, meaning that most votes won't change. But Souter is 69, and his replacement is almost certain to be younger and will change the dynamics of the Court in big and small ways.
The early betting is that Obama will choose a woman, a minority, or someone who fits both categories. Hispanics and Asian-Americans are two groups that have never been represented on the nation’s highest court. With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the only female now sitting, pressure will be strong to replace Souter with a woman.
With a comfortable Democratic margin in the Senate, Obama may be able to cast his net beyond the pool of experienced appellate judges and find someone with what he has called “life experience” that the current Court may be missing. All nine justices on the Court today were judges on federal appeals courts.
During the presidential campaign in 2007, Obama made that point when he said, “Sometimes we're only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower courts]. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that's the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.”
That said, most of the names that have been mentioned as possible Obama nominees do have judicial or academic experience. Some of those names:
-- Sonia Sotomayor, a Hispanic female who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
— Elena Kagan, the former dean of Harvard Law School who is less than two months into her tenure as the first female U.S. solicitor general.
— Harold Koh, the former Yale Law School dean and an Asian-American, whose nomination as State Department legal adviser is pending.
— Kathleen Sullivan, the former Stanford Law School dean and a partner in the New York office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges.
— Diane Wood, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
— Kim Wardlaw, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit who is Hispanic.
— Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a former assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights who is African-American.
Obama’s Cabinet also includes several lawyers who have been cited as potential candidates: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, both women, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is Hispanic.