Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama has started meeting face-to-face with possible Supreme Court nominees, including talks Thursday with federal judge Sidney Thomas, a senior administration official told CNN.
Thomas serves on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and is from Billings, Montana.
The senior administration official would not disclose the other recent meetings, but acknowledged the activity is a sign that the process has reached an important new phase and Obama is edging closer to a selection.
Obama has said he intends to nominate a candidate to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens by the end of May, so that the Senate can complete the confirmation process in time for the new Supreme Court session in the fall.
According to the senior administration official, Obama is still going through a lot of reading material as he considers contenders and has more one-on-one meetings planned.
The senior official said Obama has not recently met with two other known contenders - Judge Diane Wood or Solicitor General Elena Kagan - but added that Obama either met with them the last time there was a vacancy on the high court or already knows them well from other encounters.
The official would not comment on whether another contender, federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland, had met one-on-one with Obama in the past week.