Obama Likely to Pick Woman to Replace Souter

Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who has reportedly informed the
White House that he plans to retire, is a relative youngster in high
court terms.

Five of the current justices are older than the appointee of former
President George Bush who turned out to be more liberal on a number of
issues than the appointees of former President Bill Clinton. So, at 69,
Souter could easily be looking forward to another two decades on the
bench. (After all, Justice John Paul Stevens, another Republican
appointee gone liberal, is 89 and going strong; most court watchers
think Stevens is aiming to surpass the record of Oliver Wendell Holmes
Jr., who retired -- just shy of age 91 -- as the oldest justice in the
high court's history.)

But Souter has been quietly telling his circle of friends and legal
compatriots - the former attorneys general who he got to know when he
served as New Hampshire's chief law enforcement officer - that he wants
to retire. Though fit and energetic, Souter has never made any secret
of his distaste for Washington and his long-term desire to return to
his native New England.

Now, Souter appears to have formalized an exit strategy, as reports circulate that he has informed the White House of his intention to retire at the end of the court's current term.

If Souter follows through on the plan, President Obama will be
making a court appointment that, while it is unlikely to alter the
court's ideological balance, could bring needed diversity to the bench.

The early line holds that Obama will pick a woman to sit with the
court's lone female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an ailing member of
the court's more liberal wing.


Solicitor General Elena Kagan,
who has already been appointed to a top position by Obama. She was
Kagan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 19, 2009 by a vote of
61 to 31, after conservatives objected to the former Harvard Law School
dean's positions on a number of issues.

2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia_Sotomayor,
whose Hispanic background could make her a politically-attractive
nominee. A centrist who was first nominated to the federal bench by
President George H.W. Bush and then nominated to the U.S. Court of
Appeals by President Bill Clinton, she was criticized by some
conservatives as a "judicial activist." But the 1998 approval of her
appeals court appointment came on a 68-28 vote, with broad Republican

Federal Judge Diane Wood,
who once taught at the University of Chicago with a young
constitutional law professor named Barack Obama. His 1995 appointment
by Clinton won unanimous approval from the Senate, even though the
former clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Harry Blackmun has taken hits from social conservative groups for her "strongly pro-abortion" views.

There are, of course, more prospective candidates,
including state Supreme Court justices such as Chief Justice Leah Ward
Sears, North Carolina Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and
Wisconsin Associate Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

No matter who Obama picks, the chances that his nominee will be
confirmed with relative ease have risen significantly in recent days.
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's switch from the Republican caucus
to the Democratic caucus moves a key member of the Judiciary Committee
into the majority-party camp. If and when Minnesota Democratic Farmer
Labor Party candidate Al Franken is finally seated, Democrats will have
the 60 votes they need to advance a nomination without having to
contend with a Republican filibuster.

The one complexity that conservatives have highlighted involves the
fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee operates under an arcane set
of internal rules, including one that usually requires the consent of a
minority party member to advance a controversial nomination. Specter
was the Republican most likely to assist the Democrats in such a

But it is worth noting that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking
Republican on the committee, oversaw the confirmations of both
Sotomayor and Wood when he served in the 1990s as chairman of the
Judiciary Committee. In the case of Sotomayor, Hatch broke with more
conservative Republicans to back her nomination to the appeals court.

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