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

Obama gears up for Supreme Court battle

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. Lynn

    TCM: So what you are saying that only the "wrongwing" Republicans are able to uphold the constitution.

    Did that come to you before or after you received a harvard Law degree, were

    May 17, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  2. Lynn

    TCM: So what your are saying is that only a "wrongwing" Republican is able to uphold the constitution.

    Did that "brilliant" thought come to you before or after you received your Harvard Law Degree, were president of the Harvard Law Society or taught Constitutional Law??

    May 17, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  3. vette66

    All he needs to do is pick a black woman with a mexican name with one leg missing and likes to do it with another woman. That should about cover all of the bases that he needs to cover for his political payback.
    I agree give us Judge Judy or Judge Brown.
    Have a nice day while you can.

    May 17, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  4. Sari

    Ok, all of this right wing screaming and complaining about Obama getting a Supreme Court appointment has to stop NOW. Of the justices currently on the bench, only two were appointed by Democrats. TWO!!!

    SHUT. UP. I'll say to you what I said to my son when he tried this sort of behavior:

    We're not just going to let you get your way because you throw a temper tantrum. When you're done kicking and screaming, and are able to act like a reasonable mammal, you are welcome to rejoin us.

    May 17, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  5. Susan

    Why are both sides already gearing up for a battle - must there be one? Seems as if we're creating battles by preparing for them before there's even a "war: - doesn't make sense to me. Can we at least wait until we know who or what we're "battling" about?

    May 17, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. Abdul Rahman

    A person appointed to be a justice of the United States Supreme Court should be a person who is above politics and is in tuned with the changes in our American society. You can call that person a social constructionist if you will but should neither an ideolog nor a towing my party line of thinking kind of person. Whoever mr obama appoints to the bench should be a pragmatist a-la in the tradition of justice Holmes and justice Hugo Black.

    May 17, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
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