Mr. Souter Leaves Washington


While nothing about David Souter should surprise anyone--the concept of surprise contains an assumption of predictably, something that the shy and intensely private associate justice has never engendered--the news that he is leaving the Court is interesting because it offers President Obama his first chance to to put a mark on the court.  His decision will be endlessly discussed on legal blogs over the coming weeks, and I promise a round-up of comment soon, but for now it is best to sum up the current conventional thinking and, more importantly, to begin to collect links to sources of biographical information.

The two bits of common wisdom floating about are that Obama will pick a woman and that he will pick a Hispanic.  I would recall that this was the exact same talk that occured when President Bush was assessing candidates, and yet he instead appointed two white male Catholics, the one demographic that wasn't wanting.  Nonetheless, Bush's whiff on these grounds might have caused Obama to bear down a little.

This theory favors one much discussed candidate, U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York (official bio; wiki).  The child of a working class Puerto Rican family (her father was a tool-and-die worker; her mother a nurse), she not only finds herself on both lists, but her selection would also fulfill Obama's much repeated promise to look at candidates who came from backgrounds that suggested that that they could empathicize with less-privileged persons whose cases came before the Court.

Other women believed to be under consideration are Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (official bio; wiki) and Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (official bio; wiki). Both are are former US Attorneys and served as their respective state's attorney general.  Granholm is close to Obama (both are Harvard Law grads) but has not been tapped for the cabinet, suggesting to some that she is destined for some judicial appointment.  Obama has also hinted that he'd like to to put someone with experience as an elective official on the Court--which has been free of such experience since Justice O'Connor retired. Other possible female candidates are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the former dean of Harvard Law School (official bio; wiki), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (official bio; wiki), whose name I must mention just to freak out her rabid haters across the political spectrum.

Initially, Sotomayor leads the list of Hispanics.  Some have mentioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, former state AG and US senator (official bio; wiki), but his past positions might anger the more liberal wing of the Democratic party (he opposed gay adoption early in his career) and his appointment would reduce the number of Hispanics in the cabinet to one (Labor Secretary Hilda Solis).  U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) (official bio; wiki) has also been suggested, but he has been dogged with ethical issues and has not practice law or served as a legal official since the 1980s.  I expect to hear other Hispanic candidates in coming days.

One possible surprise choice is not a woman or a Hispanic: Obama's BFF Deval Patrick (official bio; wiki). Massachusetts Gov. Patrick, a close friend of the president's for many years, was in the Clinton DOJ and was later general counsel for Texaco and Coca-Cola. Like Granholm, Patrick's omission from the cabinet has given rise to the belief that he sits high on Obama's list of possible judicial picks, though perhaps for a later opening.


Photo: Postcard of Weare N.H., Justice Souter's home