In replacing Souter, how far left will Obama go?
He'll face pressure from his liberal base in his pick for the Supreme Court.
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The name long floated as front-runner for Obama's first pick is Elena Kagan, 49, former dean of Harvard Law School, who was confirmed as the nation's first female solicitor general on March 19. The Senate vote was 61 to 31.Skip to next paragraph
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Given that the current court contains only one woman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is widely assumed that Obama will address that imbalance by selecting a woman. Two other frequently mentioned names are Diane Wood, 58, and Sonia Sotomayor, 54, both federal appeals court judges.
But it's Ms. Kagan's lack of strong ideological profile that could weigh in favor of waiting for a subsequent high court nomination, which Obama is almost certain to have. Kagan has never served as a judge and has barely gotten her feet wet as solicitor general. If the assumption is that she would be an easy confirmation, Obama may hold onto to her for later, when chances are he will not be as popular as he is now (polling consistently in the 60s on job approval).
Given that the Senate Democratic caucus has just gained a new member – the party-switching Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania – and is likely to gain its 60th vote this summer, when Al Franken is expected to win the contested Minnesota Senate race, Obama has a strong hand to play when his nominee reaches the Senate for confirmation. Sixty votes are required to halt debate in the Senate, allowing a nomination to proceed to final passage.
Two high-profile liberal female legal scholars being mentioned are Pamela Karlan, born in 1959, and Kathleen Sullivan, born in 1955. Both teach law at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Given all the other pressing issues currently before the president, however, he may decide that now is not the time to try to push through a nomination that would be especially contentious.