The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Supreme Court: The Contenders

Sonia Sotomayor (R) at a 2004 Brown V. Board of Education Exhibit (Source: Newsletter of the Federal Courts)

By Robert Barnes
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.

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 the city of New Haven, Conn.'s decision 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 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. Warlaw 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 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 (D) (born 1956). Patrick 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 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.

Posted at 11:45 AM ET on May 1, 2009
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Mclane-Wardlaw's nomination should warrant full scale Riots by true Americans!

The Ninth Circuit Court is the most Anti-American group of TRAITORS ever assembled!

There is NO WAY a Judge from a Court that BLOCKED Federal Investigation of MILLIONS of ID Thieving Invasarios should even be allowed!-Much LESS given a Life Appointment to the Supreme Court!

Posted by: SAINT---The | May 3, 2009 5:46 PM

Even moderates should support the selection of a liberal nominee. It's good for the intellectual health of the Court to have a broad range of philosophies included. For more, see

Posted by: tar82 | May 2, 2009 5:18 PM

Thomas and Scalia would’ve probably agreed with the Dredd Scott and Plessy decisions if they had a chance to vote on it.

Obama should appoint a very young (not older than 55) and very liberal jurist (as far on the left as Scalia and Thomas are on the right). He’s got the votes and political capital to do it.

Posted by: sgtpepper23 | May 2, 2009 2:09 PM

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears would be a fantastic choice. She is eminently qualified and a brilliant, compassionate woman of great intelligence.

Posted by: lrowland | May 1, 2009 4:17 PM

Pro labor, anti corportae lobby, please.

Posted by: rooster54 | May 1, 2009 1:27 PM

Is this really good news for Obama? I'm not so sure. Picking a new justice takes attention away from his broader agenda and could galvanize Republicans and moderates, especially if a liberal judge is picked.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | May 1, 2009 12:49 PM

Speaking of matters of constitutional law:


OR (if link is censored):

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 1, 2009 12:47 PM

The purpose of the Supreme Court is to override laws that violate the constitution.

Posted by: XLiberalJack | May 1, 2009 12:43 PM

The FIRST ninety-three justices confirmed to the court were white men, so does that mean we've met some quota?

Posted by: JakeD | May 1, 2009 12:08 PM

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