Stevens’ Successor Likely to Come From Last Year’s List
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's search for a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced his retirement Friday, picks up where Obama left off last year.
In 2009, Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to fill the vacancy created when Justice David Souter retired. Three other candidates he interviewed for that vacancy remain possibilities: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Chicago-based U.S. Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood.
Among other legal figures likely in the mix, based on their credentials and backgrounds, are Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, Attorney General Eric Holder and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who worked as an assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.
Obama seriously considered Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm last year, although he did not, in the end, interview her.
It is difficult to predict who might be leading the president's list this time. In 2009, top aides did not know whom he was ready to select until shortly before he made the decision. He called Sotomayor on May 25 and publicly revealed her nomination the morning of May 26.
Before last year's opening, Obama had stressed that he wanted someone with "that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles." He has also said he wants people who know things beyond footnotes in case books and suggested he might look beyond the bench for a candidate.
The last time a president chose someone who was not already a judge, however, was in the fall of 1971, when Nixon selected William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell. Since then, presidents have gravitated exclusively toward judges, and all nine of the current justices are former U.S. appeals court judges.
Factors of diversity may come into the mix. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic justice. The nine-member bench has just two women, so a female candidate might continue to have the edge. Stevens' departure will leave the court with six Catholics, two Jewish justices and, for the first time in the court's history, no Protestant.
Among those likely in the mix:
- Kagan: 49, U.S. solicitor general, the first woman to hold the post, former Harvard Law School dean.
- Wood: 59, appeals court judge on the Chicago-based 7th Circuit, and formerly a lawyer in the antitrust division of the Clinton Justice Department.
- Napolitano: 52, secretary of Homeland Security and former Arizona attorney general and governor.
- Garland: 57, a U.S. appeals court judge on the District of Columbia Circuit, which has become a common steppingstone to the Supreme Court, and a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration.
- Eric Holder: 59, attorney general, the first African American to hold the post.
- Deval Patrick: 53, Massachusetts governor and former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.