May 13th, 2009
04:02 PM ET
5 years ago

Sources: High Court selection process narrows

Justice Souter has announced that he is retiring from the Supreme Court and President Obama is searching for a replacement.
Justice Souter has announced that he is retiring from the Supreme Court and President Obama is searching for a replacement.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The search for a Supreme Court nominee has been trimmed to about half a dozen candidates by top White House officials, and a decision by President Obama will likely be announced by month's end, two sources close to the selection process tell CNN.

Among the finalists are federal appeals court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan. The sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak by the White House, say women make up all but one of the top candidates currently being given serious scrutiny.

Also on the list, a source said, was California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno. The 60-year-old Los Angeles native was not among the early favorites mentioned by legal analysts and the media. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had hinted some of the names being considered would fly under the he political radar. He had been a federal trial judge before his 2001 appointment to California's top court.

A new round of vetting their records is underway by a small group of top staff led by the White House Counsel's office. Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser David Axelrod are also extensively involved.

Sources say some administration officials are pushing for an announcement before the Memorial Day weekend, when Congress goes on recess for a week. A bipartisan group of senators met in private with Obama Wednesday about the upcoming vacancy.

"My impression was he [Obama] doesn't want to let it take too long," Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee told reporters after the meeting.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the committee, which will hold confirmation hearings, refused to offer a timetable for consideration of the nominee. He said that will depend on how soon a choice is named. White House Press Gibbs said the president is hopeful hearings and a vote by the full Senate will be completed by the monthlong August recess. Leahy said he expected the next justice to be ready when the high court returns to work in late September.

Several names on the short list have no judicial experience, say sources, including Kagan. Others with political experience on the short list include Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Sen. Claire McKaskill (D-Missouri) was also receiving serious consideration in recent weeks, said sources.

Leading candidates from the federal bench that have been vetted are appeals court judges Merrick Garland from Washington, Ann Claire Williams from Chicago, and Kim Wardlaw from Los Angeles. Sources say the list of finalists may expand depending on face-to-face meetings Obama will have with the current top-tier candidates. The White House has given no public indication whether those personal meetings have concluded. Gibbs has hinted a surprise or two may be on the current working list.

The nominee would replace Justice David Souter who announced he will step down after 19 years on the bench, when the high court term recesses for the summer in late June.

Three of the finalists have mentioned for months as leading contenders for a vacant Supreme Court, long before Obama took office.

Sotomayor - The 54-year-old judge on the 2nd Circuit U-S Court of Appeals would be the first Hispanic justice. She was named a district court judge by President Bush in 1992, then elevated to her current seat by President Clinton. Supporters say that– along with what they call her moderate-liberal views– would give her some bipartisan backing in the Senate. But she has suffered through recent stinging criticism in the media and blogs by those on both the left and right, over perceived concerns about her temperament and intellect. Some Hispanic groups expressed concern after a skit last week on "The Late Show with David Letterman" compared Sotomayor with a noisy Spanish-speaking judge on a popular TV courtroom show that settles petty legal disputes.

Kagan - As the administration's top lawyer when arguing before the Supreme Court, her recent confirmation hearing was a breeze, with leading conservative lawyers voicing their support. She has been touted for her consensus-building skills when recently leading Harvard Law School. Just 49, she has no judicial experience, which some insiders say can be viewed as both a political asset or liability. Sources say Kagan's profile has risen somewhat among White House officials looking at the pros and cons she would bring. Some conservative legal activists privately believe she would be more "reasonable" in her views on executive power than other contenders.

Wood - Considered one of the sharpest minds on the Chicago-based appeals court, she also teaches part time at the University of Chicago, where Wood met former fellow instructor Obama. They have remained casual, but not close friends, since then. At 59, she is among the oldest candidates being given serious scrutiny for the high court.

Sources say the age of the nominee will be a key selection criteria, since justices have lifetime appointments and the longer they serve the greater the potential legacy for the president. "It isn't the main criteria, but certainly the president is looking for a justice who will be an intellectual force on the court for many years to come," said one source close to the selection process.

Obama has told colleagues privately he has great respect for the records of federal appeals judges like David Tatel, Diana Motz, Jose Cabranes, and Amalya Kearse, as well as constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, but is aware all are at least 65. President Bush's two successful 2005 choices– Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito– are still in their fifties.


Filed under: President Obama • Supreme Court
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    And the nominee is Sonia Sotomayor.

    May 13, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  2. Bleebo

    Pick your wife, her resume is most impressive.

    PICK YOUR WIFE!!!!!

    May 13, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. Romney2012

    well, Obama will pick someone to buy additional votes with; not someone who'll uphold the law for true Americans.

    May 13, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  4. Jimmy the Greek

    Looks like NARAL provided Obama with his list of choices.

    You gotta LOVE Napolitano being on his short-list. The woman who thinks conservatives, christians, and veterans should be put on the terrorist watch list....

    .... because domestic terrorists like William Ayers, Black Panthers, etc NEVER did anything wrong..... (eyes rolling).

    Obama = Worst President Ever

    May 13, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Veronica

    GOP whining set to restart in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

    I am curious to see who the President puts out there.

    May 13, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. GOP = 21st century dodo

    The volatile GOP base, which is all that's left of the GOP, will be opposed to whomever Obama picks.

    May 13, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. Star B.

    I think it's great that Pres. Obama choices for the seat are women....I thought we forgot about women in that position for a longtime.

    May 13, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. RobK

    So, rather than go with the most qualified candidates, Obama chooses based on politics. Typical politician. No different than previous presidents.

    May 13, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  9. Kelby In Houston, TX

    From what I read and hear, the 'natural' choice would be Sonia Sotomayor.

    May 13, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  10. Andrew Abramowitz

    Sonia Sotomayor

    May 13, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  11. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    @ Dutch/Bad Newz VA....... I just commented on the "Cafferty blog" that we need either, a Latina or an African-American woman, on the bench.

    I trust President Obama to make a wise choice. We do, however, need another woman.

    May 13, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  12. SN

    Gotta be Kagan. Israel already controls the other two branches, may as well make it all three.

    May 13, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  13. BobAbrams

    This is the scary part of the article:
    "A new round of vetting their records is underway by a small group of top staff led by the White House Counsel's office. Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser David Axelrod are also extensively involved."
    Anything involving Rahm and Axelrod is GUARANTEED to be crooked.

    May 13, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  14. Kelby In Houston, TX

    okay, I just got thru Sonia Sotomayor bio. she is widely regarded as a moderate or nuetral. She has been proved for judicial positions by both parties. That makes her perfect to me. She is not a left wingnut like me and she is not a crazy neo con hater either.
    I really hope she gets the nomination and I hope the GOP does not block her. They really should not. But for some reason, I think they will

    May 13, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  15. gino

    The nominee is Diane Wood.

    May 13, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. D. Tree

    I hope the Party of No doesn't give the President too hard of a time confirming his nomination. Remember "Up or down vote?"

    May 13, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. Bob the Observer

    Tell me the truth: Is it just as bad to appoint someone because she is a woman is it is to not appoint someone for that reason? I cannot believe that an extra "X" chromosome is at the top of the vetting list this time.

    May 13, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  18. Steve From Dallas

    god help us... we dont need another activist judge to somehow "interpret" illegals to be legals... if thats the case, then why should any of us care about the rule of law?

    May 13, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. BobAbrams

    Black People + Supreme Court = Most racist our country will ever be...I hope half-black obama makes the right choice

    May 13, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  20. IndepndentAmerican

    A woman is needed on the Court right now. It is heavily male, and there needs to be some effort made at balance.

    May 13, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  21. Matt in CT

    "I hope the Party of No doesn't give the President too hard of a time confirming his nomination. Remember "Up or down vote?"

    -Did this person purposely try to be a complete hypocrite w/ this statement? So when Obama was lamenting Alito's nomination and signaling that he'd favor a filibuster, was that not given the then president "too hard of a time?" Whoever posted that has some serious growing up to do.

    May 13, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  22. truth is liberal sort of

    it's narrowed down to a black, liberal, lesbian or bi-sexual community organizer....simple.

    May 13, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  23. Joe in CA

    What about Judge Judy?? We need somone to liven up that bunch of crusty old republican appointees.

    May 13, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  24. walleye

    To: BobAbrams May 13th, 2009 4:51 pm ET who says

    Black People + Supreme Court = Most racist our country will ever be…I hope half-black obama makes the right choice

    You need to leave our country you ignorant racist PIG.

    May 13, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  25. HAWK, TEXAS

    With sessions on the deciding end he will vote against any one that is not a far right republican.

    May 13, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
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