With that said, let me tell where I’m coming from – I’m a registered Democrat that has a vested interest in whom President Obama will choose to fill Justice Souter’s seat come October. The President, who previously taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago before embarking on his more famous political career, has recently laid out his criteria in terms of evaluating prospective judges. Of course the GOP is promising a contentious battle, many insiders are wondering how fierce it will be since Justice Souter’s announced retirement will trigger the first Democrat Supreme Court selection since May 13th, 1994 (when President Clinton named Stephen Breyer to the bench). Of course many media outlets seem to pass around the same list of potential nominees, most agree that President Obama will lean towards picking a female Justice; and in the grand tradition of journalistic incest I’ve decided to use my wit and street smarts and gather all the preliminary names being tossed around and handicap the chances each one has in both being nominated and confirmed.
Sonia Sotomayer of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sotomayer is a Clinton appointee to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and seems to be the odds on favorite to pass. Many believe she meets President Obama’s empathy criteria, having grown up poor in the South Bronx, as well as Obama's preference for sterling credentials (graduated from Yale Law School as well as serving as the editor of the Yale Law Journal). Sotomayer began as an Assistant District Attorney in New York before entering private practice and specializing in intellectual property litigation. Viewed as a centrist and respected on both sides, Sotomayer should face an easy confirmation process. 1 to 3.
Harold Koh, Dean of Yale University Law School. Currently Obama’s nominee to be the chief legal adviser at the State Department, but his nomination has encountered heavy opposition from Republicans due to his interpretation of international law which consisted of condemning the Iraq war and publicly opposing torture. He is considered a liberal pick. 55 to 1.
Elena Kagan, U.S. Solicitor General. Former dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan served as deputy domestic policy adviser in President Clinton’s White House. Clinton nominated her to the D.C. Circuit in 1999 but she never got a hearing. Kagan is considered liberal but has a record of reaching out to conservatives while at Harvard. 3 to 1.
Kim McLane Wardlaw of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The first Hispanic American woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Wardlaw was a respected California litigator and Democratic supporter before being named by President Clinton as a District Judge in 1995 and then, later, an appellate judge in 1998. Both nominations enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Some legal insiders find her to be less progressive than Sotomayer thus making her a favorite among Republicans. Even.
Sandra Lea Lynch, chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Longtime litigator and President Clinton appointee in 1995, recently caused controversy among the religious right for authoring a court’s decision regarding parental rights in public schools. 15 to 1.
Diane Pamela Wood of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals. A longtime academic, Wood still teaches as a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. She has written countless essays and decisions and holds memberships. She also serves counseling positions on numerous boards and organizations. Recently, Slate.com reported this piece detailing an opinion Wood shared with potential nominee Judge Ann Williams that may be brought up if either one is nominated for the high court. The case in question is entitled Doe v. City of Lafayette and it concerns a convicted child molester and his rights to dispute a public park ban placed by the city. The initial three panel hearing (comprised of Wood and Williams along with Judge Kenneth Ripple) settled on a 2-1 split where Judges Wood and Williams voted to reverse the city’s ban based on it violating the plaintiff’s 1st and 14th Amendment Rights. The case proved to be complicated and further reading of the Slate piece is essential but the controversial stand made by Judges Wood and Williams could be detrimental if either is nominated. 8 to 1.
Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Sears became the first African-American female Chief Justice in the United States as well as the first woman and youngest person to sit in the Supreme Court of Georgia. Sears announced her retirement from the Georgia Supreme Court when her term as Chief Justice ends in June of 2009. Considered to be a liberal member of the court, Sears has hinted that her retirement will allow her to focus on both academic and pro bono social justice pursuits. 6 to 1.
Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts. Only the second elected African American Governor in the U.S. Worked under President Clinton as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division where he was labeled by GOPer’s as an Affirmative Action hawk and soft on crime. Seen by the Left as pro-labor but will be grilled for his position on the Board of Directors for Ameriquest for which he resigned after 2 years in 2006. Considered a liberal pick. 30 to 1.
Cass Sunstein an Obama friend from the University of Chicago Law School and Obama’s nominee to run the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Considered a moderate. 18 to 1.
Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Easily confirmed in 1994 following President Clinton’s nomination his legal career has been committed to advocating on behalf of many Mexican-American issues. No major controversies have followed his career and may be considered moderate. 12 to1.
Johnnie B. Rawlinson of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2000 Rawlinson became the first African American woman to sit on the ninth circuit. Her credentials lack punch and many find her intellect and legal curiosity to be comparable to Justice Clarence Thomas. It’s pretty much accepted that her nomination would disappoint many who view the court with high regard (regardless of political preference). 100 to 1.
Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Having a long and distinguished career in the Attorney General office – began as a special assistant to deputy with the U.S. Department of Justice, Garland was named to the D.C. Circuit and is considered a judicial moderate. He is considered a male front-runner. 8 to 1.
M. Margaret McKeown of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. An expert in intellectual property law, McKeown made enemies with the religious right by authoring a three panel decision regarding the unconstitutional display of Government supported religion. 18 to 1.
Pamela S. Karlan, law professor at Stanford University. An experienced advocate before the Supreme Court, Karlan is a committed legal scholar and is a respected expert on matters of anti discrimination and constitutional law and has written extensively on many legal matters. Considered liberal. 10 to 1.
Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan. Serving her final term as Michigan Governor, Granholm has seen her approval ratings slip due to budget and financial crisis. Before elected Governor, Granholm served as Attorney General for Michigan and supported regulations to protect consumers. Publicly supports pro-choice policies and civil unions and same-sex marriage. She has been seen by the media as a major front-runner although many legal experts wonder what qualifies her as a constitutional scholar. 20 to 1.
Kathleen Sullivan, Dean of Stanford Law School. A leading scholar on constitutional law, Sullivan will face scrutiny for being openly lesbian and for her aggressive advocacy in promoting and arguing for gay rights. 18 to 1.
Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary. Since becoming Senator of Colorado in 2004, Salazar has made friends on both sides of the aisle. His confirmation as Interior Secretary was unanimous, has a track record of being environmentally friendly although his confirmation of Gale Norton (G.W. Bush’s pick for his previous position) caught the wrath of many environmentalists and his favoring of industry over the environment. Served as Attorney General of Colorado from 1998 to 2004. Salazar is considered a moderate. 15 to 1.
Janet Napolitano, Chief of Homeland Security. Has a contentious connection to the current Supreme Court by serving as attorney to Anita Hill in 1991 against current Justice Clarence Thomas. Her time as a private attorney focused on consumer protection and improving law enforcement, she served as both Attorney General and as Governor for Arizona before joining Obama’s administration. Napolitano is currently caught in a controversy for releasing threat memos warning about possible far-right extremist groups working to recruit returning veterans upset about Democratic policies. 45 to 1.
Ann Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. An African-American woman, she could be tough for Republicans to oppose because she was first appointed as a federal district court judge in 1985 by Reagan. Clinton elevated her to the appeals court. She is considered a moderate but her involvement in the Doe v. City of Lafayette decision (previously posted under Judge Diane Wood) could derail her. 4 to 1.
Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. Considered an influential lawyer during the 1970’s, Clinton was raised as a conservative until joining a number of Democratic causes in college. After law school, she would go on to crusade for a number of organizations dealing with child law and family policy. Seen as a polarizing figure in politics, Clinton would surely face a contentious nomination process if selected. 35 to 1.