U.S. Supreme Court

Who Will Replace Justice Souter?

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In the wake of reports Thursday night that Justice David Souter has told the White House he plans to retire from the Supreme Court, attention will turn immediately to possible picks to replace him. In fact, informed speculation began during the presidential campaign.

In the ABA Journal’s November issue, sources close to then-candidate Obama discussed lawyers he might nominate for a Supreme Court vacancy.

The four lawyers most often mentioned by sources at that time as possible Supreme Court picks by a President Obama were:

• Judge Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A Clinton appointee to the appeals court, Wood is seen as one of the country’s smartest judges. She’s a liberal who has authored a fair amount of high-profile dissents in the conservative 7th Circuit. In 2002, one such case regarded an Indiana law mandating in-clinic counseling for women seeking abortions. Bucking the majority, Wood wrote that the law was burdensome to women, particularly those in rural areas.

• Seth Waxman, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s WilmerHale. A former Solicitor General in the Clinton Administration, the 57-year-old Waxman has argued more than 50 cases before the high court. In private practice he’s represented corporate clients and financial institutions. But he’s also argued successfully for basic rights of habeas corpus on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

• Elena Kagan, U.S. Solicitor General. Dean of the Harvard Law School at the time of our November story, Kagan had her 1999 nomination by President Clinton for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then controlled by Republicans. Kagan, 48, whose academic work focused on First Amendment issues and administrative law, is considered a skilled consensus builder.

• Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A political centrist, the Bronx-born Sotomayor has been regarded as a potential high court nominee by several presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Reared by her widowed mother after the death of her father, a tool-and-die worker, she has an attractive life narrative and an even more attractive resumé. She was an editor of the Yale Law Review, did heavy lifting as a prosecutor under legendary New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and worked in private practice as an intellectual property litigator. She was first appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, then to the appeals court by President Clinton.

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd has more names for the short list:

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