Six of the nine current Justices of the United States Supreme Court are above the age of seventy, and it is likely that President-elect Barak Obama will have the opportunity to appoint at least two new members to the Court during his first term. This article provides a biographical overview of several leading contenders for a possible Supreme Court nomination during the Obama administration as well as some of the pros and cons that could affect whether they will be appointed.
As I have discussed elsewhere, Obama has not been very specific about the types of Justices he would seek to appoint. One can imagine, however, that he will look for things that have been important to Presidents in the past. These factors include shared ideological views with the President, an excellent resume and education, and a relatively young age (since Justices have life tenure, younger Justices can be more influential over time). Other factors Obama may look for include gender and racial diversity, since women and African Americans have been historically underrepresented on the Court (only 2 each), and no Hispanics have ever served on the Court.
While Obama could answer recent calls to appoint someone other than a sitting judge from a lower court to the Supreme Court, in recent years most Presidents have elevated current judges to the Supreme Court. I look at possible nominees from the political and academic ranks in a separate article. This article focuses on people who are already judges who could make the Obama Supreme Court short list.
Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice, Georgia Supreme Court
Leah Sears (Age 53) is the youngest person to ever serve on the Georgia Supreme Court and the first African-American female to ever serve on that court. Prior to her Supreme Court appointment in 1992, Sears was Georgia’s first African-American Superior Court Judge. She graduated from Cornell, Emory Law School, and obtained an LLM from the University of Virginia. Sears is a left-leaning Justice by the standards of Georgia Courts, but on a national scale is likely to be considered a judicial moderate.
Pros: Age, experience, African-American, Female, ideology
Cons: long judicial paper trail, has been called a “judicial activist” at times by members of own court,
Merrick B. Garland, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit
Garland (Age 56) was appointed to the second-highest Court in the United States by President Bill Clinton. Since that time he has become one of the intellectual heavyweights of the Democratic appointees to the Federal bench. Garland graduated first in his class from Harvard, and then Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School. He served in various high posts within the U.S. Department of Justice, and was also a partner in a law firm before his appointment to the bench. While on the D.C. Circuit his record has been one of a moderate consensus builder who is universally recognized for his intellect.
Pros: Age, experience, ideology, stellar education, intellect, easily confirmable
Cons: Not a pick that would increase Court “diversity”, long judicial paper trail
Sonia Sotomayor, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit.
Sotomayor (Age 54) is of Puerto Rican descent and has served on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals since 1998. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton, and then graduated from Yale Law School where she edited the Yale Law Journal. Prior to becoming a judge she served as a prosecutor in New York and a partner in a large law firm. A political centrist, she was appointed a federal district judge in 1992 by President George Bush and later elevated to the Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton.
Pros: Age, experience, ideology, education, intellect, female, Hispanic, easily confirmable, prior appointments by Presidents of both parties.
Cons: long judicial paper trail.
Kim Wardlaw, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit
Wardlaw (age 54) is a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and was also a Federal District Judge. Before obtaining a seat on the bench, she was a litigation partner at a powerhouse law firm. Although a Democrat, she is viewed as a highly intellectual moderate judge. Wardlaw graduated fifth in her class from UCLA law school and clerked for a judge on the Ninth Circuit as well. She is one of only a handful of Hispanic female Federal Judges.
Pros: age, experience, ideology, intellect, female, Hispanic, excellent record as a judge
Cons: may be too moderate for liberals, non-traditional college for a Justice, sits on 9th circuit (most liberal federal court in the country), long judicial paper trail.
Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Justice, Supreme Court of North Carolina
Goodson (age 54) has been a Justice on the Supreme Court of North Carolina since 2006, and is a trailblazer among African-American women Judges. After graduating from UNC law school, she worked as a prosecutor, trial judge, and as a judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, where she served for 8 years before being elevated to that State’s highest court.
Pros: Age, female, African-American, diverse experience
Cons: Relatively short time on State Supreme Court, non-traditional law school for a Justice, unknown views on major constitutional issues.
Charles R. Wilson, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit
Wilson (54) graduated from Notre Dame Law School and then clerked for a Federal Appeals Judge. He has served as a state prosecutor, state judge (Florida), a Federal Magistrate Judge and a United States Attorney. He was appointed to the 11th Circuit in 1999 by President Clinton and received bipartisan support in the Senate.
Pros: Age, African-American, likely to receive bi-partisan support
Cons: Judicial paper trail, non-traditional law school for a Justice
Robert A. Katzmann, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit
Katzmann (Age 55) earned a Bachelors degree at Columbia, a PhD from Harvard and then a law degree from Yale Law School where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He clerked for a Federal Court of Appeals Judge before beginning a stint at the Brookings Institution. He has taught as a professor at several law schools and was a political science professor at Georgetown. He was appointed to the 2nd Circuit by President Clinton in 1999, and is widely viewed as one of the most intellectually gifted federal judges in the country. Judge Katzmann is also widely published in law reviews and political science journals.
Pros: Age, intellect, education, experience, ideology
Cons: not a “diversity” pick, long judicial paper trail, long academic paper trail
Roger L. Gregory, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit
Gregory (Age 55) was educated at the University Of Michigan Law School and was in private practice until being appointed to the 4th Circuit by President Clinton in 2000 (by controversial recess appointment). Before his recess appointment expired, he was re-nominated by President Bush. Gregory is the first African American Judge to have ever served on the 4th Circuit.
Pros: Age, experience, African-American, appointed by Presidents of both parties
Cons: Judicial paper trial, (minor) controversy in 4th circuit appointment could ignite Senate Republicans
Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr., Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia
Hasell (age 53) is the first African-American Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. He graduated from the University of Virginia and Harvard Law School. He worked in private practice for a major law firm before joining the Virginia Supreme Court in 1989. He is known as a moderate, consensus building judge. He has served on the board of directors for Regent Law School (founded by Pat Robertson), which might make him an unpalatable choice to the far left.
Pros: Age, experience, education, African-American, moderate
Cons: long judicial paper trail, association with Regent University.
Robert D. Rucker, Justice, Indiana Supreme Court
Rucker (age 55) has been a Justice on the Indiana Supreme Court since 1999. Prior to joining the Court he served as a Judge on the Indiana Court of Appeals and as a state prosecutor. He is a graduate of Valparaiso Law School and obtained an LLM from the University of Virginia.
Pros: Age, experience, African-American,
Cons: judicial paper trail, non-traditional law school for a Supreme Court Justice