Who Is on Obama’s Supreme Court Short List?

Who is on Obama’s Supreme Court short list?

With the resignation of Justice David Souter, President Obama is looking to nominate his first pick for the Supreme Court — I say first not just because the Supreme Court nomination process can be lengthy and difficult, but because it is likely that President Obama will have at least two more empty seats to fill at the nation’s highest court.

The White House has formalized its short list of Supreme Court nominees and asked the top six prospects to provide personal information, with the usual vetting process already underway. The White House is likely to pay close attention to the background checks and vetting procedures after some embarassing moments in the past year concerning cabinet nominees who failed to pay their taxes, or who came under fire during the nomination process for other crimes.

Though there are six names on the short list, only three are considered “serious prospects”. Before we get to the top three, let’s take a brief look at the list of six.

California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno

The major point against the nomination of Carlos Moreno is that he’s, well, a man. It is unlikely that Obama will nominate a male this time around, as there is currently only one female on the Court, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is likely to retire during Obama’s administration as well, potentially leaving us with an all male Court. Still, don’t forget the name Carlos Moreno just yet — Obama will almost certainly have a few other Supreme Court nominations to settle before his time is up. Along with Sonia Sotomayor, Carlos Moreno could become the first Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

Governor Granholm, while not in possesion of a lengthy legal legacy, is a major force in Democratic politics, and would be a liberal voice on the Supreme Court. Also, her term as governor tops out next year, and President Obama may be looking for a more permanent home for his friend and political ally.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Napolitano is an advisor to President Obama, and it has been reported that he trusts and respects her counsel. While this may sound like a good reason for Obama to award her a Supreme Court position, political analysts suggest that Obama might rather keep her around, where she can continue to aid him and his young administration.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan

Kagan has just recently gone through the vetting process, meaning she’s ripe for another nomination. Unfortunately for Kagan, she is relatively new to her post as Solicitor General, making her slightly weaker than other names on the list who have held their jobs for years.

U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Sotomayor has a great story. She grew up without a lot of money, was raised by her mother, and worked her way through Yale Law school, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Review. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice if appointed, along with fellow short list name Carlos Moreno. Sotomayor has been on the Supreme Court short list for both Democrat and Republican presidents, and having been on the Court of Appeals for almost 18 years now, she is probably leading all other names on the short list.

U.S. Appeals Court Judge Diane Pamela Wood

Diane Wood was a professor of law at the University of Chicago at the same time as President Obama — the two have a big of history together. An excellent musician, Diane Wood was a gradute of the University of Texas Law School and has worked for the Court of Appeals for almost 15 years.

So who are the big names, the top three on President Obama’s short list? Federal appeals court Judges Sonia Sotomayor, Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan are reportedly on the “true short list”, and are simply the most qualified candidates for the job. This information also comes from several unnamed sources who are “close to the process”, as released by major news outlets and National Public Radio.
The White House hopes to move quickly to pick a nominee, with some in the administration signaling an announcement was possible within the next week or two. But a source involved in the process cautioned that the vetting for all of the candidates except Kagan (who was recently vetted as part of her nomination to become Solicitor General) could take longer.

What does a vetting process for a Supreme Court Justice look like? The top six contenders have already received several lengthy and totally exhaustive questionnaires, similar to those for Obama’s Cabinet-level positions but featuring a few additional focus questions on topics like legal ethics. While the nominees finish these questionnaires, Obama administration lawyers are picking apart the nominees tax returns, past speeches, and publicized legal opinions.

While no “clear favorite” has emerged, Sotomayor is probably at the head of the pack, due to her lengthy term on the Court of Appeals, and the fact that she would be an historic pick for the Obama administration as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is said to favor the nomination of Sotomayor — this gives us a good idea of the overwhelming feelings “behind closed doors” at the White House.

Political analysts suggest that Obama would score “huge points” with Hispanics, an increasingly powerful and important segment of the voting population. If Obama were to nominate Sotomayor or another Latino, like Carlos Moreno, he could win the favor of a large number of Hispanic votes. Not to mention that Sotomayor has a compelling life story, moving from the projects to the nation’s most elite educational institutions and then on to the federal bench. Unfortunately, Sotomayor has not exactly dazzled the legal world during her time on the Court of Appeals, failing to distinguish herself on that Federal court as a major proponent of legal theory or as an excellent writer. Considering President Obama is a former constitutional law scholar, he is likely to want his Supreme Court nominee to be just such a force in the world of law. Moreover, Sotomayor has also been criticized for her “abrasive” attitude, and if there’s ever a time to avoid being abrasive, it is in close quarters with 8 other heavily opinionated Justices. Sources suggest that the Obama administration is concerned about her attitude.