May 17th, 2009
01:12 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama gears up for Supreme Court battle

In the wake of Justice Souter's announcement that he is retiring, President Obama is poised to make his first Supreme Court pick.
In the wake of Justice Souter's announcement that he is retiring, President Obama is poised to make his first Supreme Court pick.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama has started arming for the possibility of a major Supreme Court nomination battle, pulling a longtime Democratic power player into the White House to help run the confirmation process, senior administration officials told CNN.

Stephanie Cutter is leaving the Treasury Department, where she has served as one of Secretary Timothy Geithner's most senior advisers during the financial crisis, to be the point person for mobilizing public support for the Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David Souter, three senior administration officials said.

Administration officials say Obama is likely to name Souter's replacement in late May or early June, before the president leaves for Egypt to deliver a speech to the Muslim world. Regardless of whom he picks, liberal and conservative activists are already bracing for an epic battle over the future of the high court.

Cutter will reprise the key behind-the-scenes role that Republican operative Steve Schmidt played for the Bush administration on the successful nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Schmidt later became the chief strategist for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid.

After cutting his teeth on the successful Bush 2004 re-election effort, Schmidt was pivotal in plotting strategy to round up Senate votes for the Roberts and Alito nominations during President George W. Bush's second term. He also employed his rapid response skills from the 2004 campaign to aggressively push back against allegations lodged against Roberts and Alito in the media.

Cutter, a lawyer, helped Senate Democrats plot strategy on the Roberts and Alito nominations. She also spent several years as a top aide and adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts. Kennedy is a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will review Obama's nominee.

Like Schmidt, Cutter also brings sharp elbows dating back to her time as a senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, during his 2004 presidential bid. Her new assignment suggests that while the president has a comfortable majority in the Senate, White House officials are preparing for a bruising fight just in case.

While various officials downplayed chatter about tension between Cutter and Geithner, it is not clear whether she will return to Treasury as counselor when her White House assignment is over. In fact, before Cutter accepted the Supreme Court role, several administration officials told CNN there was one plan for her to leave Treasury to become assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon.

Administration officials stress there are several scenarios for Cutter after the Supreme Court nomination process is over, including a possible return to Treasury. In the meantime, Jake Siewert, former press secretary in the Clinton White House, is being pulled in to serve as a counselor at Treasury, according to the officials.

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. TCM

    what battle? He'll probably appoint some controversial, left leaning judge bent on interpreting the law in a liberal sense; instead of upholding it the way the constitution dictates.

    May 17, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  2. S Callahan

    Oh boy, this is going to be one long drawn out process....just pick the one with "S' at the beginning of her last name and you'll have your candidate for office/err court.

    May 17, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  3. Here Come Da Judge

    Give us Judge Judy!

    May 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. TheThinker

    Excellent, I'm glad the administration is prepping up for the conflict.

    May 17, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  5. Peter E

    The practical definition of an 'activist' judge is anyone whom you disagree with. Every judge is an activist. They all inject their own agendas, whether left or right, into the judicial process. It is a lie and hypocrisy to pretend otherwise.

    May 17, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  6. Peter E

    No justice actually interprets the Constitution of the United States as the Founding Fathers intended. If they did, we would still have slavery, women would have no rights to vote or own property, and we wouldn't even have a federally funded military. Face it, all justices inject their own personal bias into the judicial process. It'd be a lie to say otherwise. There is no judge who is not an 'activist.'

    May 17, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. JD in Moraga

    You know, the President could nominate a female minority by nominating his wife. But let's face it – he could nominate Jesus Christ and the Republicans would object. It will certainly provide some entertainment as this little drama unfolds.

    May 17, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Ray Fisher

    Just pick the Michigan governor since the court is overdue for an attractive justice. She is intelligent, attractive, thoughtful and industrious so she gets my vote!!!

    May 17, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  9. C W

    The Obama Administration is showing once again that they are not naive in anticipating a protracted battle regarding the nominee to replace Justice Souter.

    The Republicans have done nothing but try to block everything the President has done, proving they have nothing to offer the American people except tired, failed policies and obstructionist politics. I've no doubt they will once again put "Party First" when what the People want and need is a new Supreme Court Justice to ensure the continued functioning of our Federal government.

    Boy, this is getting old ....

    May 17, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  10. Bill in Austin

    The GOP has already got plans and memos to sabotage every possible pick that the President may have. If that doesn't show their true intentions of being "obstructionists", nothing does. It is finally time that the President reminds them who won the election and push his nomination thru without them. The time for playing "nice" is over.

    May 17, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  11. AJ

    There won't be a battle. Obama will nominate some right wing "Democrat" to fill the post. He is most concerned with making republicans happy. I hope the left wing of our party blocks his nominees until he choses a nominee whose judicial philosophy is in line with Democratc philosophy.

    May 17, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  12. gl, Pittsburgh

    President Obama is one of the smartest Man I have every hard of. He know how to play a great game of chess while his opponents only know how to play checker.

    May 17, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. Jean

    Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a strong pro-life advocate, weighed in on the issue with Holly Robichaud by e-mail:

    “My favorite grandpa, Clem James Sheeran, was Catholic. Irish to the core, his favorite place (other than church) was Notre Dame. I can’t imagine what he would think as the university recognizes someone who contradicts the core values of the Catholic faith by promoting an anti-life agenda. As we learned today, our nation is more pro-life than ever before; it is a very important time to strengthen the message that every baby is created for good purpose and has the potential to make this world a better place.”

    May 17, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  14. tess

    keep pelosi talking – she is now starting to dig a big enough hole to take down a whole lot of democrats with her! i am thoroughly enjoying watching her stammer, open her surgically enhanced eyes, and wrinkle her botoxed brow in such feigned surprise that people don't believe a word she utters out of her plumped up lips – this, republicans- is priceless!!!!!! just sit back and enjoy the show -----

    May 17, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  15. Bill

    Boy you have to give it the GOP they think that President George W. Bush should choose the next Supream Court Justice. I recall that the selection of the next Justice is up to the Presidnet and has to be confirmed by the US Senate.

    What is the problem!

    May 17, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  16. The Unshrub

    If the republicans practice what they preached when Bush picks two nominees there will not be a problem. Of course, no one in their right mind, expects the republicans to practice what they preach.

    May 17, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  17. Dace Tucson

    The current court will go down as the most extreme far right activist court in history (and that is saying a lot). The ultra right wing zealots are already gearing up to defeat anyone except another one of their ideologues – they can't even tolerate the few moderates there now they label as liberals even thought none are. We need at least one liberal to start to bring back any level of balance – so we can't be held hostage by the fat hate spewing radio lords party any longer. But even the most liberal justice in our history would not change anything – it will remain a right wing constitution destroying hate machine for decades.

    May 17, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  18. The Broker.

    All promises. But no substance. This Guy has produced nothing but dreams. CNN cover for this guy. They will not state one thing he has done. Not one! They can prove!!! it is all programing. Your are being brainwashed. by this guy and CNN....

    May 17, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  19. factsnews

    Google "Bilderberg meeting 2009"

    May 17, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  20. George

    Nice moved Mr President. Keep Going.

    May 17, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  21. D. Tree

    You can do it Mr. President, we believe in you!

    May 17, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  22. Tony

    This will be the first round of at LEAST three supreme court nominations, and maybe more before Obama's eight years are over.
    I don't think any will be much of a battle. Even when it, or if it come down to turn the court liberal. The Senate will give him a green light.

    May 17, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  23. Larry

    Stephanie Cutter is going to try to deceive the public on Supreme Court nomination.Cutter, a lawyer, helped Senate Democrats plot strategy on the Roberts and Alito nominations.We only care that they are far left liberals and will help further our left wing agenda.

    May 17, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. gl, Pittsburgh

    TCM May 17th, 2009 1:18 pm ET

    what battle? He'll probably appoint some controversial, left leaning judge bent on interpreting the law in a liberal sense; instead of upholding it the way the constitution dictates.

    You right wing nuts do not have any say so on this okay after 8 years of corruption we had to deal with. Every body from the President Bush to the CIA have misinterpreted the law so any body the Presidetn Obama selected will be way better then any of Bushs cronies.

    May 17, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  25. Scott

    Tough beans for the republicans. When they were able to pursuade America to vote for them, they got to appoint their judges. Now the situation, after seeing the results, is reversed. I say go Obama and appoint those "liberal" judges. The more the right-wing calls them "activist judges" and acuses them of ignoring the constitution, the better you can be sure they are. These are the judges that will protect your rights and freedoms. The right has lost all sense of reality and perspective in their fury at having the controls they wish to impose on Americans correctly judged to be unconstitutional restrictions in a free country.

    May 17, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
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