Obama Considers Candidates To Fill Supreme Court Vacancy
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
NPR has learned that President Obama has begun interviewing potential nominees for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. The president is planning to nominate someone to succeed the late Justice despite Republican senators' warnings that they will not consider and will not even meet with an Obama appointee. They want the next president to make a nomination. NPR's Nina Totenberg is here with the latest on the confirmation process. Hi, Nina.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Who is on the list of the president's possible nominees?
TOTENBERG: Well, sources close to the process say that among those being interviewed are Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Sri Srinivasan of the same court, Judge Paul Watford of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco, Judge Jane Kelly of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals based in St. Louis and U.S. district Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson who serves in Washington, D.C.
SHAPIRO: Now, some of these names have been floated before. But now what is new is that President Obama has actually begun conducting interviews. Who do we know to be the leaders in this group, if there are any leaders?
TOTENBERG: Know is a big word. Here's who we think are the leaders.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Suspect.
TOTENBERG: Suspect - so Judge Garland, the oldest at 63, is also by far the most experienced. He's a moderate liberal with a long history as a prosecutor prior to joining the appeals court in 1997. In 2013, he became chief judge of the appeals court. He's widely respected. He has few political pluses for the president, as he is neither female nor a member of any minority group. In addition, he has a 19-year judicial paper trail for opponents to flyspeck. But he's highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Indeed, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch helped secure his confirmation to the appeals court.
Judge Sri Srinivasan is 49. He worked in the Solicitor General's Office in both the Bush and Obama administrations. President Obama nominated him to the D.C. Appeals Court in 2012, and he was confirmed a year later by a vote of 97 to 0. He has less than a three-year judiciary record - so little to flyspeck. He was born in India, came to the U.S. with his parents as a child. If nominated, he would be the first Supreme Court nominee of South-Asian descent.
Judge Watford, 48, was confirmed for a seat on the 9th Circuit in 2012 by a 61 to 34 vote, garnering both Democratic and Republican votes. In his three years on the court, he's earned a reputation as a smart and careful jurist. Indeed, two of his opinions - one a dissent and one a majority opinion - were ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court last term. If he were nominated to the high court and confirmed, he would be the third African-American to serve on the nation's highest court.
SHAPIRO: Now, those were the top three you named, but there were two others on the list as well. Tell us a little bit about them.
TOTENBERG: Well, Judges Kelly and Brown Jackson are considered to be longer shots, I think. Kelly hails from Iowa, the home state of Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, but she too is a relative newcomer to the federal judiciary. And she's served previously as a public defender, a job notoriously rife with potential political targets for opponents to hit at.
Judge Brown Jackson is only 45, has been a district court judge for only three years and received a relatively low rating from the American Bar Association at the time of her nomination, enough to get her confirmed but not enough to suggest that she was any sort of a star at the time. Her political pluses are that she's related by marriage to the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and that she's African-American.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.