Obama Starts to Meet with Court Contenders
Updated 1:01 p.m.
By Robert Barnes and Shailagh Murray
President Obama has started to meet with Supreme Court candidates and has already sat down with Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, believed to be among a handful of top contenders.
Wood arrived in Washington D.C. yesterday to attend the Georgetown University Law Center's Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary. O'Connor is attending the event as well, of course, along with Justices Stephen G. Breyer. Retiring Justice David H. Souter is scheduled to give the luncheon address.
But much of the buzz was about two others in the room -- Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Wood -- who are said to be on President Obama's short list of candidates to take Souter's seat.
Wood, of Chicago, said she had long planned to attend the conference, which examines the independence of the judiciary. But she ended the chat when asked whether she would be meeting with anyone from the White House on her trip here.
"No, no, I'm not answering any questions on that," she said with a laugh before moving on. An individual who is familiar with the vetting process said the meeting had already taken place, as part of a series of sessions with potential nominees that are expected to continue in the coming days.
The timing of the announcement remains something of a mystery, although Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa) said Obama told him yesterday not to expect a decision before next week. Grassley is one of numerous senators on both sides of the aisle whom Obama has called in recent days to solicit names and other guidance on his first Supreme Court pick.
But White House officials have warned that the timing is something of a moving target, contingent on when Obama makes up his mind.
Kagan, who Obama recently picked to become the nation's first solicitor general, addressed the group about the independence of her office, which represents the government before the Supreme Court.
Kagan said it is obvious that she is part of the executive branch and the president has an appropriate role in the office's decision-making. But she said she also has an obligation to defend the work of Congress, even if the administration disagrees with it, as well as to be "scrupulous in every representation to the court."
While the solicitor general is often referred to as the "10th justice," she is more often like "the 35th clerk," Kagan said.
Posted at 12:34 PM ET on May 20, 2009
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