Obama on Pace to Name Supreme Court Nominee Before Heading Overseas

By Michael D. Shear and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 23, 2009

President Obama has interviewed several of the candidates on his list to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter and is on schedule to announce his nomination before leaving on an overseas trip slated for early June, according to sources knowledgeable about the secretive process.

Obama earlier this week interviewed Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago. It is unclear who else he has talked to in the one-on-one interviews he has conducted. But aides are also keenly interested in Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, who would be the court's first Hispanic justice.

But Obama is known to be considering others who are not on the bench, including Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor.

The source said Obama did not formally interview Granholm when she visited the White House earlier this week.

The timing of the decision is not set and Obama has not yet made his choice, the sources said. One said he was "99 percent sure" that the president would not be conducting interviews this weekend, when he is at Camp David. Obama is scheduled to leave Tuesday for a trip out West, then return Thursday to Washington. His overseas trip, to Egypt, Germany and France, begins June 3.

The White House has said only that it wants to decide soon enough for confirmation hearings to be completed and the new justice to be in place when the court begins its new term on the first Monday in October.

One source said extra time had been built into Obama's schedule "so that he wouldn't feel rushed" in making what he has said will be one of the most important decisions in his young presidency.

Obama started with a large list of possibilities for the job when he took office and then narrowed the list to about a dozen after Souter's announcement May 1. White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig assigned two lawyers to each of those 12 to produce 30-page research papers, one source said. Obama read each and then requested opinions issued by those candidates who are judges.

White House officials have gone out of their way to describe how intensely involved Obama has been in the process. One person who was with Obama recently said the president motioned to a foot-high stack of papers and said it was his Supreme Court reading. Another asked a tired-looking Obama if he had stayed up late watching the National Basketball Association playoffs, but the president said he had been reading an appellate opinion and became so engrossed that he could not put it down.

The president then met in the Oval Office with the lawyers from the counsel's office before interviewing the candidates.

It is unclear how many candidates remain on the list.

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