WASHINGTON (CNN) - A process begun months ago among White House lawyers to quietly compile a list of possible Supreme Court picks has accelerated with word Justice David Souter plans to step down form the bench later this year.
The nominee would give President Obama an immediate opportunity to place his stamp on the nation's highest court, and perhaps to begin cementing his legacy with a lifetime appointment to that bench.
Legal sources say Obama's legal team will begin refocusing what had been an aggressive effort to fill federal vacancies on lower federal court seats. Now their attention will be directed into a search for Souter's replacement.
Administration officials have been working closely with key senators and Democratic legal advisers on possible choices.
"The [Obama] White House and the Justice Department certainly have people there already thinking about the issues, compiling lists, starting to vet the backgrounds of those candidates," said Edward Lazarus, a Supreme Court legal expert and a legal adviser during the Obama transition.