By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009 2:43 PM
As President Obama begins the search for a replacement for Justice David H. Souter, the following people are being mentioned as possible nominees by administration officials, interest groups and others who watch the court. The list is heavy with women and minorities, because the last three justices confirmed to the court were white men.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has complained about being the only woman on the nine-member court since Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement in 2006, saying in a speech last month in Ohio: "There I am, all alone, and it doesn't look right."
It is also possible that Obama would try to diversify the court in another way, by adding a current or former politician. All the current justices are former appeals court judges, and none has held elective office.
Those often mentioned as possibilities are, in no particular order:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor (born 1954), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Sotomayor was nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in a deal with New York senators in 1991 and elevated to the appeals court in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. She could become the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court. Conservatives have raised questions about her role in upholding a decision by the city of New Haven, Conn., to throw out a firefighter promotions test because no African Americans qualified. The case is now before the Supreme Court.
Judge Diane Wood (born 1950), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Wood worked at the antitrust division of the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, and she was nominated to the appeals court by Clinton in 1995. She knows Obama from her days as a professor at the University of Chicago law school, where he also taught. Wood, who will turn 60 next year, is the oldest of the candidates frequently mentioned for the court, where the trend has been toward younger justices who would serve for years in the lifetime appointment.
Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw (born 1954), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Wardlaw worked for the Clinton Justice Department transition team and was nominated by Clinton as a federal judge in 1995, then elevated to the appeals court in 1998. She is a liberal judge on the nation's most liberal appeals court, and she also had a role in a case now before the Supreme Court. She wrote the appeals court decision that said Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old middle school student who was strip-searched in an unsuccessful effort to find drugs.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan (born 1960). Kagan was confirmed by the Senate to her new job in March on a 61-31 vote and has yet to argue a case at the court. Her confirmation process was more difficult than some had predicted, as Republican senators accused her of avoiding their questions. In the background was the thought that Kagan might be Obama's first nominee to the court. She is the former dean of the Harvard Law School, worked in the Clinton administration and worked with Obama, although not closely, at the University of Chicago.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears (born 1955). Sears was appointed by then-governor Zell Miller in 1992 and later became the first woman elected in a contested statewide race there. In 2005, she became chief justice, and in the process, became the first African-American woman in the nation to head a state supreme court. Although her current term runs until the end of 2010, Sears has announced she will step down from the job at the end of June.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (born 1959). Granholm (D) has encountered political trouble in her state because of the collapsing economy but was seen as a rising Democratic star. Born in Canada, Granholm is a Harvard Law graduate who served as attorney general before winning election as governor in 2002. She frequently campaigned with Obama during the presidential campaign.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (born 1956). Patrick (D) worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and served as assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Clinton Justice Department, 1994 before becoming a corporate lawyer. He was elected governor in 2006 and has had a rocky time in the job, but he is well-liked in the civil rights community.
Judge Ruben Castillo (born 1954), U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Castillo is a former assistant U.S. attorney for Chicago and was counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. He was nominated to the bench by Clinton in 1994.
Kathleen Sullivan (born 1955). Sullivan is a constitutional scholar and former dean of Stanford Law School who has been an active advocate for abortion rights and gay rights. She more recently has represented business interests before the court and remains director of Stanford's Constitutional Law Center.
Harold Hongju Koh (born 1954). Koh is dean of the Yale University Law School but has been nominated by Obama to be legal adviser to the State Department. He formerly worked in the Office of Legal Counsel and as an assistant secretary of state. His current nomination is under fire from conservatives who criticize his view on international law and its applicability to U.S. judicial decisions.