President Obama will soon personally begin reviewing the legal records and writings of potential nominees on his short list of candidates to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court, White House officials say.
Stevens announced his retirement Friday and the White House has said it plans to name a nominee by early next month.
As speculation swirls about candidates on the president's list, administration officials have confirmed that at least one of the president's top picks is a former State Supreme Court justice who would be the first African-American woman to sit on the country's high court.
Former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears, an expert in family law and the first African-American woman to serve as a State Supreme Court chief justice, was on Obama's short list last year. A member of the left-leaning American Constitution Society, she is also a friend of conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.
The president has said he will seek to replace Stevens with a nominee of similar judicial independence and legal excellence.
"It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens," Obama said Friday.
There are fewer than 10 potential nominees on the president's list, White House officials said. But much of the external speculation has coalesced around four other potential candidates.
Chicago federal appeals court Judge Diane Wood, who is considered a liberal intellectual counterweight to the conservatives on the court, was interviewed by Obama last year for an opening on the high court that ultimately went to Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Elena Kagan, the former dean of Harvard Law School who was also on the short list last year, is considered a top choice, given her role as solicitor general of the United States. Kagan argues the United States' position in the Supreme Court and would likely easily build alliances once on the Supreme Court.
Judge Merrick Garland, who sits on a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is considered to be one of the easiest to confirm because his views are more moderate than some of the other candidates.
And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor and U.S. attorney, is eyed as someone who would bring much experience from outside the courtroom.
White House officials are bracing for another partisan fight over the president's second Supreme Court nomination. Many anticipate that short of Obama nominating an avowed conservative to the high court's bench, Senate Republicans will paint the eventual nominee as a liberal ideologue.
Confirmation of the president's nominee requires only a simply majority of the Senate and there is a chance Republicans will filibuster, although some have downplayed the idea.
"It is unlikely that there would be a filibuster, except if there is an extraordinary circumstance," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." But "I'm never going to take it off the table.
"What I object to, and I think my colleagues would object to is somebody that comes in with preconceived notions about how particular cases should be decided," Kyl said.
But Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds hearings to review qualifications of a president's nominee, say Obama will likely nominate a centrist to avoid a long, drawn-out fight.
"It's just about a certainty that the president will nominate someone in the mainstream, so the likelihood of a filibuster is tiny," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on "This Week."
The president hopes to name his candidate in time to allow for summer confirmation hearings and to seat the new justice before the fall term.