[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/14/art.scotus.gi.jpg caption="The search for a new Supreme Court justice is underway, and sources tell CNN a nominee is expected by early May."]Washington (CNN) - The White House search for a new Supreme Court justice is progressing smoothly, say government sources close to the selection process, who expect President Obama to make a decision by early May.
The three favorites for the seat continue to receive the most attention among the small group of officials in charge of narrowing a "short list" of about ten names. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appeals judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland currently have the edge over others being considered, said those sources.
–Administration sources say Elizabeth Warren - the financial industry watchdog - has been quietly taken off the short list, but is still among a larger group of candidates being considered by the White House. She is now getting much less scrutiny than some of the favorites.
-Judge Sidney Thomas, a Montana native who sits on the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals was a surprise to many court watchers and has held has a fairly low profile over the years. But sources say he has several high profile champions of his candidacy. Thomas was recommended for the judgeship by Sen. Max Baucus, who has publicly and privately pushed his candidacy. While in private practice, Thomas volunteered for the senator's first campaign. Another booster is Baucus' former chief of staff Jim Messina, who now works in the White House as deputy chief of staff. And Ian Bassin, now deputy associate counsel to the president, used to clerk for Thomas four years ago. The Counsel's Office is spearheading the Court nomination.
–Another top candidate from last year's high court vacancy is again on the short list. Justice Carolos Moreno of the California Supreme Court was moved up to the list of finalists. The 61-year-old judge is the only Democrat and only Hispanic on the seven-member bench. Some legal sources believe Moreno's name may be simple political outreach to the Hispanic community, building on the successful confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. Moreno also has the strong support of the state's two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
-Gov. Deval Patrick remains not interested in a high court job, telling supporters over the weekend he is focused on his re-election bid. He has previously downplayed his chances, but has supporters inside the White House. He and the president are old friends.
–Others removing their name from consideration are Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, both members of the Judiciary Committee that will hold confirmation hearings for the nominee. Klobuchar's chances were considered slim all along, since a Republican governor would name her temporary replacement in the Senate. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is also out of the running, said government sources.
-Leah Ward Sears, the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court is a legal pioneer as the first African-American woman on the court. She now is in private practice in Atlanta. Her professional resume has a number of noteworthy "firsts," combined with what one source called a "sparkling" personality, and an inspiring personal rise from humble roots . But officials privately acknowledge they are aware of some unease among liberals. A recognized expert on family law, Sears has attracted controversy for her involvement in the Institute of American Values, which supports "traditional" marriage, and whose founder opposes gay marriage. The 54-year-old Sears is overseas this week speaking on behalf of the group. She was also fined in 2007 for violating state ethics laws when accepting improper campaign contributions. She is close friends with fellow Savannah-native Justice Clarence Thomas, whom she invited to her swearing-in as state chief justice.
Justice John Paul Stevens announced last Friday his intention to retire from the court after nearly 35 years on the bench.