Black female judge, a former third-grade teacher, makes Supreme Court nominee list

President Obama is casting a wide net in his search for a new Supreme Court nominee, with the White House adding a federal judge from Chicago to its working list and soliciting suggestions from lawmakers in a closed-door session Wednesday.

Judge Ann Claire Williams, who became the first African American appellate judge in the federal Seventh Circuit, has joined a working list of about 10 other candidates, the White House confirmed Wednesday.

The president said Wednesday he would announce a nominee soon. But aides say Obama – who was a constitutional-law lecturer in Chicago – is nowhere near winnowing his list of candidates. Senior administration officials call it a luxury of time that Obama can look off the beaten path for candidates.

Noting that his nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor was sent to the Senate in May of last year, the president said after a meeting with Senate leaders in the Oval Office today: “We are certainly going to meet that deadline, and we hope maybe we can accelerate it a little bit so that we have some additional time” for confirmation hearings before the start of the court’s next term.

Obama wants to look outside the traditional judicial monastery for candidates and also outside of law-school classrooms, his press secretary said today. In a bipartisan meeting with Senate leaders and Judiciary Committee members today, Obama told the lawmakers they should “feel free to submit” the names of judges they wanted considered, according to one administration official.

Even so, the president and the lawmakers did not discuss any potential nominees by name.

There’s no rush to do so, Obama’s advisors believe. They say the president is well ahead of schedule, compared with how his successful nomination of Sotomayor for the high court unfolded last year.

President Reagan first appointed Williams to the federal bench in 1985, making her the first African American woman to serve as a district judge in the Seventh Circuit.

She was elevated to the appellate court under President Clinton, becoming the first black judge to serve on that court and the third African American woman appointed to any federal appellate court in the nation.

Prior to joining the bench, Williams was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Before attending law school, according to her résumé, she taught third grade in the Detroit public schools.