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White House Readies for Two Possible Supreme Court Vacancies

Posted Feb 5, 2010 8:19 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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For months, speculation has centered on the possibility that Justice John Paul Stevens will retire from the U.S. Supreme Court.

But White House lawyers are preparing for as many as two possible Supreme Court vacancies, ABC News reports. The second justice who could step down, court watchers believe, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Stevens, 89, stumbled in his delivery when reading aloud from a dissent last month. Ginsburg, 76, had surgery for pancreatic cancer a year ago; the blog Above the Law and Reuters have suggested she was snoozing during the State of the Union address.

Sources close to Ginsburg, though, tell ABC News it’s unlikely she will retire. They point to her active participation in oral arguments and her declaration that she doesn’t intend to retire yet.

If there are any retirements, the administration will have to calculate whether a decidedly liberal replacement will win confirmation. ABC News quotes Stuart Taylor of the National Journal. "The most important thing that has changed," Taylor said, "is the downward spiral of partisanship in judicial nominations. It's reached a point where either party is going to make a fight on almost anyone unless the candidate is displeasing to the base of the president's party."

The story says the White House developed a short list of potential nominees before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those on the list included Judge Diane Wood of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Wood has had to deal with hot-button issues such as abortion, which could make hearings “lively and controversial,” the story says. Napolitano suffered a public relations hit when she declared that "the system worked" after the arrest of the alleged would-be underwear bomber on Christmas day.

Another often-mentioned possibility is Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Like Obama, he is a Harvard Law School graduate.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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