Obama casts wide net with list of possible Supreme Court nominees


The White House list of potential nominees to fill the latest vacancy on the Supreme Court comprises an ethnically and geographically diverse group of at least 10 candidates, including established jurists and politicians, moderates and progressives.

The list includes a sitting governor, Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan, and a Cabinet secretary, Janet Napolitano of the Homeland Security Department.

But some people who are also believed to be candidates, including Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and banking-bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, are not on the list.

And though the Obama administration appears to be casting a wide net in its search for a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, there is no indication that any of the favored front-runners -- federal Judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan -- have lost ground.

“I think the administration is sending a message to its constituencies that the process is very open and diverse and includes some real progressives,” said Thomas Goldstein, a Washington lawyer with a Supreme Court specialty.

Advisors to the nominating process -- including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Vice President Joe Biden -- have long called for a nontraditional nominee, someone who is not a product of top-tier Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale or hasn’t worked as a federal appeals judge.

Obama hopes to name a nominee by early May. The White House said Tuesday that the president would meet with Senate Democratic and Republican leaders next week to discuss the nomination.

Chief among Obama’s criteria is an ability to build consensus on a court that is often fractured along 5-4, conservative-to-liberal lines, a White House aide said Tuesday.

On Friday, Obama said he sought a justice with “an independent mind” who understands how “the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, took to the Senate floor Tuesday and implored Obama to conduct an expansive search, urging him to “look beyond” appeals court judges like Garland and Wood. All nine sitting justices on the court came from the federal circuit courts.

“Why not look for an ex-governor like Earl Warren? Why not look for an ex-attorney general like Robert Jackson? Why not look for an ex-senator or a current senator, like Hugo Black, who was a senator when he was selected for the court, or perhaps even an ex-president?” Specter said.

A Republican senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, also spoke on the floor Tuesday, warning Obama against subjecting candidates to a “litmus test” on whether they would overturn a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, that allowed unlimited corporate expenditures in campaigns.

The expanded list Obama is considering reflects the concerns of Specter and others. Granholm, 51, is a Harvard Law School graduate and former state attorney general, but she has never been a judge. Napolitano, 52, is a former federal prosecutor, Arizona attorney general and governor of Arizona.

Also under consideration are two state court judges: Carlos Moreno, 61, a justice on the California Supreme Court and a Mexican American; and the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Leah Ward Sears, 54, an African American. A black woman has never been named to the court.

Martha Minow, a former mentor of Obama’s at Harvard, is also in the mix. An expert in international human rights, Minow, 55, replaced Kagan as dean of the law school when Kagan joined the administration. The White House is also looking at U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sidney Thomas of Montana, who is 56. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana is championing Thomas’ candidacy.

Some observers believed Patrick, 53, Massachusetts’ first African American governor, would emerge as a strong candidate. But he said while campaigning over the weekend that he wasn’t interested in the job.