Posts Tagged ‘John Paul Stevens

07
Aug
10

A New Supreme Court Justice

NEWS
A New Supreme Court Justice
Honoring Elena Kagan

Saturday, August 07, 2010

“This is a good day,” said the President this afternoon. And it was, especially for Elena Kagan, who was being congratulated on her on confirmation as the next Supreme Court Justice. He thanked the other Justices in attendance for coming, and thanked the Senate – in particular Judiciary Chairman Leahy – for their work in the process.

The President noted the bipartisanship in the final vote and recounted the broad support her nomination received across the ideological spectrum:

These folks may not agree on much, but they’ve all been impressed, as I have, by Elena’s formidable intellect and path-breaking career – as an acclaimed scholar and presidential advisor, as the first woman to serve as Dean of the Harvard Law School, and most recently as Solicitor General. They admire how, while she could easily have settled into a comfortable practice in corporate law, she chose instead to devote her life to public service. They appreciate her even-handedness and open-mindedness, and her excellent – and often irreverent – sense of humor.

These are traits that she happens to share with the last Solicitor General who went on to become a Supreme Court Justice – one for whom Elena clerked, and whom she considers one of her heroes – Justice Thurgood Marshall. And we are very proud to have Justice Marshall’s widow here today joining us. (Applause.)

In a tribute she wrote after Justice Marshall’s death, Elena recalled how she and her fellow clerks took turns standing guard when his casket lay in state at the Supreme Court – and how 20,000 people stood in a line that stretched around the block to pay their respects. They were people from every background and every walk of life: black, white, rich and poor, young and old. Many brought their children, hoping to impress upon them the lessons of Justice Marshall’s extraordinary life. Some left notes, some left flowers. One mourner left a worn slip opinion of Brown v. Board of Education.

It is, to this day, a moving reminder that the work of our highest Court shapes not just the character of our democracy, but the most fundamental aspects of our daily lives – how we work, how we worship, whether we can speak freely and live fully, whether those words put to paper more than two centuries ago will truly mean something for each of us in our time.

For her part, Kagan echoed the gratitude for those who worked so hard in the process, and gave a special note of thanks to her family:

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends. I have a lot of family here today – my brothers and sister-in-law, a nephew, a niece, aunts, uncles, cousins – and I have a great many friends here as well. You came from all over the country as soon as you heard the Senate had approved my nomination. And I’m moved and deeply grateful for your support.

And all around me in this room, I feel the presence of my parents. I wouldn’t be standing here today if not for their love and sacrifice and devotion. And although my parents didn’t live to see this day, what I can almost hear them saying – and I think I can hear Justice Marshall saying this to me right now as well – is that this appointment is not just an honor. Much more importantly, it is an obligation – an obligation to protect and preserve the rule of law in this country; an obligation to uphold the rights and liberties afforded by our remarkable Constitution; and an obligation to provide what the inscription on the Supreme Court building promises: equal justice under law.

Tomorrow, I will take two oaths to uphold this solemn obligation: one, to support and defend the Constitution; and the other, to administer justice without respect to persons, to the rich and poor alike.

Today, Mr. President, I will simply say to you and to everyone here and across the nation that I will work my hardest and try my best to fulfill these commitments and to serve this country I love as well as I am able.

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06
Aug
10

Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice

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Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice
Senate confirms Elena Kagan as 112th justice of the Supreme Court

Friday, August 6, 2010

The U.S. Senate confirmed Elena Kagan Thursday as the Supreme Court’s 112th justice and the fourth woman in its history, granting a lifetime term to a lawyer and academic with a reputation for brilliance, a dry sense of humour and a liberal bent.

The vote was 63-37 for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.

Five Republicans joined all but one Democrat and the Senate’s two independents to support Kagan. In a rarely practiced ritual reserved for the most historic votes, senators sat at their desks and stood to cast their votes with “ayes” and “nays.”

Kagan watched on television in the conference room at the solicitor general’s office, with her Justice Department colleagues looking on. She is to be sworn in Saturday afternoon at the court by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Obama, travelling in Chicago, said Kagan will make an outstanding justice who understands that her rulings affect people and called the addition of another woman to the court a sign of progress for the country. He invited Kagan to the White House for a ceremony Friday marking her confirmation.

The vote, Obama said, was “an affirmation of her character and her temperament; her open-mindedness and evenhandedness; her determination to hear all sides of every story and consider all possible arguments.”

Kagan is not expected to alter the ideological balance of the court, where Stevens was considered a leader of the liberal wing. But the two parties clashed over her nomination and the court itself. Republicans argued that Kagan was a politically motivated activist who would be unable to put aside her opinions and rule impartially. Democrats defended her as a highly qualified trailblazer for women who could bring a note of moderation and real-world experience to a polarized court they said was dominated by just the kind of activists the GOP denounced.

Kagan is the first Supreme Court nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge, and her swearing-in will mark the first time in history that three women will serve on the nine-member court together.

Her lack of judicial experience was the stated reason for one fence-sitting Republican, Sen. Scott Brown, to announce his opposition to Kagan’s confirmation Thursday, just hours before the vote.

Though calling her “brilliant,” Brown, who had been seen as a potential supporter from the minority party, said she was missing the necessary background to serve as a justice.

“The best umpires, to use the popular analogy, must not only call balls and strikes, but also have spent enough time on the playing field to know the strike zone,” Brown said.

Democrats said they hoped Kagan would act as a counterweight to the conservative majority that has dominated the Supreme Court in recent years.

“I believe she understands that judges and justices must realize how the law affects Americans each and every day. That understanding is fundamental,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman. With her confirmation, he said, “the Supreme Court will better reflect the diversity that made our country great.”

Most Republicans portrayed Kagan as a partisan who will use her post from the bench to push the Democratic agenda.

Kagan “is truly a person of the political left – now they call themselves progressives – one who has a history of working to advance the values of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and whose philosophy of judging allows a judge to utilize the power of their office to advance their vision for what America should be,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Just one Democrat – centrist Sen. Ben Nelson – crossed party lines to oppose Kagan.

A handful of mostly moderate Republicans broke with their party to back her: Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, retiring Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.

They argued that partisanship should play no role in debates over the Supreme Court and have called Obama’s nominee qualified.
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11
May
10

Elena Kagan Confirmation Fight Heads To Senate

NEWS
Elena Kagan Confirmation Fight Heads To Senate
Elena Kagan’s confirmation will distract the Senate for months

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is slated to meet with several top senators Wednesday as she begins to prepare for her confirmation hearings this summer.

Kagan, whose nomination was announced Monday, will meet with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as the top two members of the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The nominee also will meet with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Wednesday afternoon.

Supreme Court nominees typically make the rounds to all the top senators during the runup to their confirmation hearings – Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited nearly every Senate office during her confirmation process last summer.

President Barack Obama’s second high court nominee will likely arrive on Capitol Hill around 10 a.m., when she will meet with Reid, according to a leadership aide. McConnell’s office announced Tuesday that Kagan then will meet with the minority leader at 11. Both the Democratic and Republican leaders will hold photo opportunities with Kagan before she has sit-downs with Leahy and Sessions.

Though questions have been raised about Kagan’s lack of judicial experience – particularly from the Senate GOP – Leahy said Monday immediately following Obama’s announcement that he was confident Kagan would be seated.

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10
May
10

Elena Kagan Is Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

NEWS
Elena Kagan Is Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elena Kagan
Age: 50 (Born: April 28, 1960; NYC)
Current job: Solicitor General (confirmed by a 61-31 vote in March 2009)
Education: Princeton University, 1981; Harvard Law School, 1986

••• President Barack Obama has picked Solicitor General Elena Kagan as nominee to become next Supreme Court justice, NBC news reported Sunday night.

If confirmed by Senate, the 50-year-old Kagan will replace John Paul Stevens, who announced his retirement last month.

Obama was reported to have interviewed four people to take over 90-year-old Stevens’ seat in the high court. The other three were Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas, all federal appeals court judges.

Obama said earlier he would make his selection by end of May. Attorney General Eric Holder, earlier on Sunday, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Obama will “have an announcement very soon.”

Kagan is a relatively moderate choice for Obama, as she does not have a track record on hot button issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Her job as Solicitor General is to represent the United States in the Supreme Court, and also to determine the legal position that the United States takes in the court.

Formerly dean of the prestigious Harvard Law School, Kagan taught law at Harvard and University of Chicago Law School, where Obama also taught. She became an Associate White House legal counsel under former president Bill Clinton. She was the favored pick for Obama rumored in the media, and went through a Senate confirmation process last year to become the first female solicitor general, winning 61 votes.

Kagan is likely to be tested on the issue of gays in military. Republicans have voiced concern about her opposition to on-campus military recruiting at Harvard because of U.S. policy barring homosexual service members from revealing their sexuality, also known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

If Kagan was confirmed by the Senate, the Supreme Court would have three female justices. The other two are Ruth Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who was also nominated by Obama.

» Related: Supreme Court: The Contenders

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13
Apr
10

Democrats take aim at John Roberts court

NEWS
Democrats take aim at John Roberts court

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Democrats hope to turn the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings into a referendum of sorts on controversial recent decisions by the Roberts court – portraying the conservative majority as a judicial Goliath trampling the rights of average Americans.

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.

In addition to building a defensive perimeter around Obama’s pick – whoever that may be – Democrats will use the hearings to attack what they view as a dangerous strain of conservative judicial activism espoused by Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. and Associate Justices Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Antonin Gregory Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

“I don’t think people are going to tell the nominee, ‘It is terrible what the Roberts court has done — what are you going to do to reverse it?’” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), laying out the argument on Monday.

“But I think what people are going to do is say, ‘Do you share our concern about the fact that the court always seems to side with the big corporate interests against the average American?’” he added. “I think there’s going to be more of the public realizing they really do have a stake in who’s on the Supreme Court.”

Obama himself laid the groundwork for the strategy during the State of the Union speech in February, when he stunned Roberts and Alito by sharply criticizing their 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which loosened McCain-Feingold restrictions on corporate contributions to campaigns.

“The justice [Obama] appoints will be a pivotal voice on this court on issues like, for example, the one we just saw, Citizens United, where the court ruled that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals and they basically sanctioned a corporate takeover of our elections,” said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Monday.

“Massive new spending by corporations – these kinds of decisions affect people’s lives. And the justice he appoints will be there for a generation,” added Axelrod.

Still, administration officials suggested Obama won’t seek to balance the court by tapping a controversial liberal.

Instead, the White House is emphasizing a candidate’s temperament, hoping to pick a “confirmable” candidate who shares Stevens’s personal charm and gifts of persuasion – which sometimes helped him win over swing voter Anthony Kennedy.

“The president will weigh heavily the ability of a nominee to build a consensus and win over a majority of his or her colleagues to counterbalance the increasingly ideological manner in which the business of the Supreme Court is conducted,” said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Leahy told that he has been consulting with the Obama administration’s SCOTUS team for weeks and personally tipped off the president about Stevens’s intention to retire in January, after meeting with the 89-year-old justice in Stevens’s personal office inside the Supreme Court building.

Senate Republicans have vowed to scrutinize Obama’s pick – and have refused to rule out a filibuster if the candidate is outside the “mainstream,” according to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, dismissed the frantic pre-nomination strategizing by Democrats and scoffed at statements by Obama’s aides saying the process would have nothing to do with political considerations.

“Are you telling me they want to use the Supreme Court confirmation for political purposes? They told us we weren’t supposed to do that,” he said. “Jeez Louise, I’m confused. You need a scorecard to keep up with these guys.”

Obama is expected to decide on a nominee from a list of about 10 moderate to liberal lawyers and judges within the next several weeks.

On Monday, an administration official confirmed the names of two more jurists on that list: federal appeals court Judge Sidney Thomas of Montana and former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, the first African-American state chief judge in American history.

They join a roster of possible picks known to include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, a former prosecutor.

While all of the names on Obama’s shortlist enjoy solid reputations, none of them have the sheer populist pop of the justices appointed to the high court by Franklin D. Roosevelt, another Democratic president claiming to represent the common man.

Roosevelt – operating in an age before instant messaging and cable news – had more leeway in his picks, but they were an audacious bunch: William O. Douglas, who cleaned up Wall Street as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, utility-buster Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, author of the landmark Securities Act of 1933.

“These were big personalities, really famous people with long, controversial paper trails, people with really powerful liberal records,” said Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, who is writing a history of FDR and the court.

Regardless of the selection, Republicans on the committee will almost certainly paint any Obama nominee as a liberal judicial activist and pepper the person with familiar questions about his or her writings, decisions and speeches.

But this time, Democrats are likely to counter with their own set of questions about conservative activism – and question the judicial philosophy of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy in their recent decisions.

Among the cases Senate Democrats intend to focus on: the politically charged Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), in which the Roberts court denied a pay equity complaint from a female factory supervisor because she had failed to file by the three-year deadline, and the court’s 2008 decision to reduce damages from the Exxon Valdez spill from $5 billion to $507 million.

On a parallel track, Democrats, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), will soon introduce legislation to increase transparency among some corporate donations.

But the Citizens United case, which scrapped key sections of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, is the one that the White House and Hill Democrats plan to target most.

Citizens United “is the most high-profile case in the last couple of years, and there’s no question, in my judgment, that the issue will be raised one way or another during the nominee’s testimony before the committee,” said Obama spokesman Josh Earnest.

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12
Apr
10

Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

NEWS
Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already had a lot of things on his plate to get done in the Senate this year, even before last week’s news broke. Now he’s facing two more big issues in the midst of an election year (and in the midst of a fight for his own political life in Nevada) – a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, and an upcoming confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nomination. Given that Harry Reid’s Senate is not exactly known for moving with blinding speed (to be fair, few Senates are), one has to wonder whether Harry Reid can deliver on some of these big issues before the midterm elections or not.

The three major issues which Reid presently faces are the “New START” treaty, the Supreme Court nomination battle, and Wall Street reform. There are other issues just as large (and just as confrontational) which conventional Washington wisdom has already decided Reid isn’t even going to tackle in an election year (comprehensive immigration reform and a new energy policy, to name two of the biggest), although it must be said that politics is always fluid, so this conventional wisdom may prove wrong by November. Add to this the regular issues which the Senate must deal with (such as the budget), as well as pressing political problems like jobs legislation, and it’s pretty easy to see that Reid faces an overwhelming list of things to do this year.

Which means that a lot of the focus in Washington this year is going to be centered squarely on the Senate. Nancy Pelosi’s House has shown that it is much quicker and more productive, passing dozens of good bills (many with widespread Republican support), which have then done nothing but languish in the Senate. This backlog adds even further to Reid’s “to do” list. To be fair, the House does not have such constitutional duties as ratifying treaties or confirming judges. Because the Senate does, and because it faces one of each right now, it is just going to shrink the available time for the Senate to act on legislative issues this year.

Just considering the three highest-priority items on that list currently, it’s easy to see how they could eat up most (or all) of the Senate’s time between now and Election Day. Wall Street reform is the first of these scheduled for a showdown on the Senate floor. And – much like the health reform bill – this is a huge and complicated issue, with plenty of room for watering things down and inserting loopholes in the fine print. Which is exactly what both Republicans and Democrats who have sold their soul to the banking industry are going to attempt. If they don’t kill the bill outright, that is, or delay it endlessly until Reid cries “Uncle!” and shelves the whole debate.

To be blunt, Reid’s performance in the health reform struggle does nothing to inspire confidence that the donnybrook over Wall Street reform will be any different. To Reid’s credit, on health reform, he did finally deliver. About nine months late, but given the constraints he was working under (especially when Democrats lost the filibuster-proof majority they theoretically had), putting anything at all on the president’s desk was indeed a big achievement. But this time, we don’t have those extra nine months. And the constraints Reid faced then have not gone away. Which leaves passage of any meaningful Wall Street reform a real open question, at this point.

The next big, contentious issue on Reid’s schedule will be shepherding President Obama’s Supreme Court pick through the confirmation process. This fight will be different for two reasons. The first is that, ultimately, it is a binary choice for senators to make – either “yea” or “nay.” Unlike a legislative battle, where changing a paragraph here or there can gain you some votes, with a court nominee you’re either going to be for him or her, or against him or her – there’s no middle ground. The second reason this fight will be different is that it will have a real and concrete deadline. Justice John Paul Stevens is stepping down at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, and the Senate really is going to need to act before the next term begins – which happens before the election. Meaning Harry Reid is going to face a deadline he won’t be able to ignore. And, so far, he hasn’t been all that impressive about meeting deadlines lately – although (again, to be fair) he did manage to do so the last time he faced this situation, confirming Sonia Sotomayor in a timely enough fashion for her to join the high court before its term began last year.

The third big issue Reid faces will be the Senate exercising their constitutional duty to ratify (or reject) the New START treaty which President Obama just signed. However, there is no real deadline on treaty ratification (at least, not as far as I know – there may be such a deadline in the language of the treaty itself). What this means is that if Harry Reid has to “punt” any of these three issues past the election itself, this is going to be the prime candidate to get put off.

The Senate returned to work today, after a two-week vacation. Or, as they officially and euphemistically call it, a “State Work Period” (even though they are fooling precisely nobody with this cheerfully Orwellian label). From today until Election Day dawns, the Senate has a further seven weeks of vacation time scheduled (so far). That’s one week for Memorial Day, one week for Independence Day, and five whole weeks for the “August In D.C. Is So Hellish Month.” And these are just the vacation periods scheduled so far (the “tentative” schedule currently says nothing about post-Labor Day vacations). Which is not to say that they aren’t going to take a big chunk of October off, to go home and campaign their little hearts out. In the last two midterm election years (2006 and 2002), the Senate took off six weeks and three weeks, respectively. In particular, 2006 was a relaxed and leisurely year for the Senate, as they worked precisely one week in all of October and November combined (a six-week election break was followed by one week of work, then two weeks off for Thanksgiving – nice work, if you can get it, eh?).

Taken together, the two weeks for holidays, the five weeks in August, and the (likely) four weeks or so before the election where the Senate won’t be in session, the schedule leaves only a little over four months’ worth of actual working time to get anything done. The Supreme Court pick is likely going to eat up roughly a month of this time, possibly more. Wall Street reform is going to take at least a month or two (and that is being wildly optimistic, I should add). Even if Reid punts on the treaty ratification, it’s easy to see that the calendar is going to be an awfully tough one for Senate Democrats to get much done outside of the major issues this year. Which puts even more pressure on them to deliver on the major issues themselves, I should add.

Congressional Democrats would like to campaign this year on the things they’ve been able to accomplish. As well as (knock wood) an economy that is visibly getting better for people, of course. So far, the things Democrats have been able to accomplish haven’t exactly resonated with the public (health care, the stimulus, etc.). Whether Democratic officeholders have anything else to put before the voters as solid Democratic accomplishments is going to hinge mostly on Reid’s performance for the rest of this year.

If Harry Reid can manage to produce, he may improve his own currently-dismal re-election chances in Nevada, as well as give the Democratic voter base a reason to get enthusiastic about voting in November. But, if Reid cannot deliver, a lot of Democrats are going to be sucked down on Reid’s “coattails” come Election Day. Now, obviously, there are other factors at play in this election season – which, like all midterms, is problematic for the president’s party – but Harry Reid could either give Democrats a real boost in their chances at the polls by delivering a few big wins (and, one hopes, a whole bunch of smaller wins), or he could squander this opportunity and not provide legislative victories for Democrats to tout on the campaign trail.

Harry Reid has the rest of this year to produce some solid Senate victories. And the question remains: Can Harry Reid actually deliver? For many Democrats, the answer to this question is a whole lot more than merely academic, and may in fact mean quite a bit to their own chances in the upcoming election.

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11
Apr
10

Supreme Court: The Contenders

NEWS
Supreme Court: The Contenders

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Merrick Garland, Diane Wood and Elena Kagan all have connections to Chicago, and all rose through the ranks during the Clinton years. They would face varying degrees of criticism if nominated.

Nearly a generation ago, they were three young lawyers working their way up in the Clinton administration. Now, one of them could very well be the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Merrick Garland was a Justice Department official overseeing the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh from afar.

Diane Wood worked in the building too, specializing in antitrust law.

And down the street at the White House, Elena Kagan was taking on Big Tobacco.

Their paths later diverged. Garland stayed in Washington as a federal judge. Wood too became a judge, but in Chicago, while Kagan headed for academia.

But all three also shared commonalities – of experience, training and even geography – that have helped place them on the White House’s short list to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

All three have ties to Chicago – and by that token, to President Obama. Garland was born there. Wood and Kagan lectured at the University of Chicago, where Obama once taught constitutional law. Garland and Kagan, like Obama, are Harvard Law graduates.

All three hail from what some call the “judicial monastery” – the highest levels of government service, the bench and academia. And although they would probably face different degrees of opposition from Republicans, any one would be considered a traditional choice.

Merrick Brian Garland
Age: 57
Current job: Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (confirmed by a 76-23 vote in March 1997)
Education: Harvard College, 1974; Harvard Law School, 1977

For Garland it is his background in criminal law, particularly cases dealing with terrorism, that sets him apart from others on the list to replace Stevens.

The son of an advertising executive from the Chicago area, Garland arrived in Washington as a clerk for then-Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. He never left, spending most of the 1980s in private practice with a local law firm

But Washington at the time was all but under siege from narcotics and gun violence, and Garland left the firm for public service, becoming an assistant federal prosecutor. Among the cases he handled was a drug investigation into then-Mayor Marion Barry.

“He gave up a lucrative law partnership to share an office prosecuting drug cases in D.C.,” said Nicholas Gess, a fellow prosecutor. “Drugs were rampant and getting more rampant, and Merrick saw this as something he could help change.”

From street prosecutions, he moved to the Department of Justice headquarters, eventually helping run the criminal division and serving as the principal associate deputy attorney general. From his new perch, he oversaw the prosecution of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and the cases coming out of the anti-government movement at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

In 1997, Garland was nominated by President Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered the nation’s most crucial court behind the Supreme Court.

At the outset, Garland may have the easiest path to confirmation. He is considered a judicial moderate. On the appeals court, he largely handles regulatory and national security cases, thus avoiding others involving controversial social issues.

Diane Pamela Wood
Age: 59
Current job: Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago (confirmed unanimously in June 1995)
Education: University of Texas at Austin, 1971; University of Texas Law School, 1975

Wood has been a federal appeals judge even longer than Garland, since Clinton tapped her in 1995 after she served in the Justice Department for three years.

Wood obtained her undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Texas, which would, if she were selected, provide the high court with geographic diversity. She spent the bulk of the 1980s as a law professor at the University of Chicago before joining the Justice Department. She is an expert in antitrust law.

Among the three top-tier contenders, her selection by Obama would be greeted most warmly by the president’s liberal base.

It would also probably trigger another bruising ideological standoff with conservatives, who contend Wood’s writings and opinions show that she believes in a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage, is markedly a supporter of abortion rights and would like to see the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.

“She’s a liberal activist who was appointed to the bench and seemed to remain a liberal activist,” said Tom Fitton, head of the conservative group Judicial Watch.

Many lawyers who have argued before Wood hold a different view. Mark Rotert, an attorney with the Chicago firm Stetler & Duffy, praised her demeanor and intellect while emphasizing that the liberal jurist label is an oversimplification.

“I think in terms of what is the proper relationship between government and business, my impression is that she would fairly be characterized as liberal in those kinds of areas,” Rotert said.

On criminal procedures, however, “I’m not sure she fits the classic viewpoint of a liberal justice,” he said.

Wood, who grew up in New Jersey and Texas and lives in Hinsdale, Ill., nonetheless features a number of points on her resume sure to be picked at by Obama’s critics should he nominate her.

She had a long and close association with the late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, clerking for him a few years after he wrote the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which effectively legalized abortion. It was Blackmun who delivered the oath to Wood when she was sworn in as a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 1993, Wood wrote a law review article praising Blackmun for articulating in Roe and other cases “the important insight that a core set of individual rights exist that neither the states nor the federal government may trample.”

Elena Kagan
Age: 49
Current job: Solicitor General (confirmed by a 61-31 vote in March 2009)
Education: Princeton University, 1981; Harvard Law School, 1986

Of the three candidates, Kagan may be the most inscrutable in terms of her legal philosophy.

She has never served as a judge. Most of her professional career has been moving among the powerful, first in Washington, later at Harvard.

The time she has spent over the last year as Obama’s solicitor general — the administration’s top advocate before the Supreme Court — represents the most courtroom experience she has had.

As dean of Harvard Law School, she showed an ability to build consensus between warring factions, an attribute she shares with the justice she would replace should she be chosen.

As a result, when Kagan appeared last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing as solicitor general, two conservative law professors from Harvard were on hand to support her, including Jack Goldsmith, who has been assailed in liberal circles as an architect of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism legal strategy.

In fact, Kagan’s views on national security alarm some liberals. During that hearing, she agreed point-for-point with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the power of the American government to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely during wartime.

It was almost too much for Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who joked that she now understood why Kagan had once received a standing ovation at a gathering of conservative lawyers.

Born and raised in New York, Kagan is the daughter of a lawyer who was a fierce fair-housing advocate. As a student at Harvard Law, she, like Obama after her, edited the Harvard Law Review. From there, she went to Washington to clerk for liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall.

In the Clinton administration, she worked as a domestic policy advisor, helping to shape the regulatory and legal battle against the tobacco industry.

Clinton rewarded her with a nomination to the federal appeals court in Washington, but it was never acted upon by the Senate. (The slot would later go to John G. Roberts Jr., now the chief justice.)

She was named Harvard Law’s first female dean in 1993 and is credited with re-energizing the school. She also actively resisted the so-called Solomon Amendment, which cuts off federal funding to institutions that bar military recruiters from campus.

Edward Whalen, a former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and a conservative judicial analyst, calls Kagan an “unknown.”

“Kagan I see as sort of an indeterminate point in the middle between Wood and Garland. She has no judicial record. She’s clearly very liberal in her views,” Whalen said. “How that translates into how she would be as a judge isn’t entirely clear.”

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