Video: Obama weighs top court candidates

updated 5/14/2009 12:31:11 PM ET 2009-05-14T16:31:11

Focusing on specific candidates for the nation's highest court, President Barack Obama is considering a diverse list dominated by women and Hispanics. The six names confirmed as being under review by Obama include three judges, two members of his administration and one governor.

Officials familiar with Obama's deliberations say other people are also being discussed, including names that have not triggered public speculation.

Among those Obama is considering are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Appeals Court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Pamela Wood. California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno is also under review by Obama.

Sources familiar with Obama's deliberations confirmed the names to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no candidates have been revealed by the White House. The confirmation amounts to the first time any name has been directly tied to Obama.

More candidates may be added to the list as Obama considers a replacement for retiring Justice David Souter. The president's review process is expected to intensify in the coming days, with a decision expected by or near the end of May.

The disclosure of top candidates came as the president met privately at the White House with four leading senators likely to play a key role in confirmation proceedings. Separately, top aides invited the leaders of several liberal-leaning outside groups to a meeting.

Possible choices
Most of the people confirmed as candidates have been mentioned frequently. Moreno — the sole man on the known group of top candidates — has not been.

Who could be the next Supreme Court justice?The president is widely expected to choose a woman for a Supreme Court that has nine members but only one female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He is also under pressure from some Latino officials to name the nation's first Hispanic justice. Moreno and Sotomayor are Hispanic.

Obama is likely before month's end to name a nominee to replace Souter, who is retiring when the court term ends this summer. He is part of the court's liberal wing, and his replacement by the new Democratic president is not expected to change the high court's ideological balance.

Obama met Wednesday with senators who will have huge influence over the pace and tone of the confirmation process.

"I don't envy him the decision, but I think he's going to make it soon," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said after the private White House session.

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Bipartisan effort
Obama met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on Judiciary; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; and Leahy. Vice President Joe Biden, a former Judiciary Committee chairman and veteran of confirmation hearings, also attended.

Video: Picking the next Justice The Republican senators underscored that they would not seek a rushed confirmation process, noting that it typically takes 60 days for confirmation once a nominee has been announced. Pressed on a timetable, Leahy told reporters: "We'll work out a decent schedule. Let's get the nominee first."

Obama wants his nominee confirmed before the Senate recess in August, which means he would need to name one soon.

"I think he's still in the initial evaluation process," Sessions told reporters later in the day. "That's pretty clear, I think. He's not settled on one name."

The senators who met with Obama said he did not discuss specific names with them.

Moreno was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to serve as a U.S. District Court judge and the Senate unanimously confirmed him. In 2001, he raised a few eyebrows when he gave up his lifetime federal judgeship to accept Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' nomination to the state's high court.

Five steps to filling a Supreme Court vacancyMoreno is the only Democrat on the California Supreme Court and is widely regarded as its most liberal voice. Last year, he signed on to the court's 4-3 ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state. Voters later banned gay marriage in a ballot initiative.

The other known candidates under Obama's review:

  • Granholm, a former federal prosecutor and Michigan attorney general. She has been a fierce spokeswoman for her state's struggling auto industry and was a strong advocate for Obama during his presidential campaign.
  • Napolitano, who stepped down as Arizona's governor to join the administration and was quickly tested as homeland security chief when the swine flu outbreak hit.
  • Wood, an appeals court judge who has worked at the State Department, the Justice Department and in private practice. Like Obama, she taught at the University of Chicago Law School.
  • Kagan, who stepped down as dean of Harvard Law School to become the nation's first female solicitor general. Like Obama, she has a law degree from Harvard and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and worked in the Clinton White House.
  • Sotomayor, an appeals court judge and former New York prosecutor and private lawyer. President George H.W. Bush nominated her as a federal judge; Clinton nominated her to the appeals court.

Even a former Bush administration official surfaced in the nominee conversation Wednesday: James Comey, the former deputy attorney general who bucked the Bush White House over a domestic spying program when he was the Justice Department's No. 2 in 2004.

A senior administration official said some people within the Obama White House are pushing Comey for consideration, although it was unclear how seriously he was being weighed by Obama. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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