Obama Wants 'Intellectual Firepower,' 'Common Touch'

President Obama flew off to Camp David for the holiday weekend, but with a Supreme Court pick looming, it may turn out to be somewhat of a working holiday.

Before he left, he sat down for an interview with CSPAN and revealed more insight into who he might choose to fill the slot left open by the retiring Justice David Souter.

"What I want is not just ivory tower learning. I want somebody who has the intellectual firepower but also a little bit of a common touch and a practical sense of how the world works," the president said.

VIDEO: Background checks on potential SCOTUS nominees are mostly complete.
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He went on to describe the qualities he's looking for in a new Supreme Court justice. Chief among them -- empathy.

"You have to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes and get an idea of how the law might work or might not work," he said.

When asked if there are justices past or present whom he would model his pick after, the president, a former constitutional law professor, cited judges he may not agree with all the time, namely Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Justice Scalia is a terrific writer and makes really interesting arguments," Obama said.

And even though he did not see eye to eye with all the decisions of retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Obama said she had her particular strengths.

"You always had a sense that she was taking the law and seeing what are the practical applications of the law," he said. "She wasn't a grand theoritician but she ended up having enourmous influence on the law as a whole."

After O'Connor retired, Ruth Bader Ginsberg became the only woman on the court. In public comments recently, Ginsberg has made it clear that she'd like some company.

The president is widely expected to tap a woman for the job.

The top contenders include Diane Wood of Chicago, a highly regarded liberal judge with a long relationship with the president dating back to their days teaching at the University of Chicago. Wood met with the president privately at the White House last week.

Also on the short list is former Harvard law School dean and Solicitor General Elena Kagan. She is considered more of a moderate on the controversial issue of executive power.

And finally, Sonia Sotomayor of New York, who if picked would be the first Hispanic on the court.

Obama said he is not expecting any trouble getting his nominee through the confirmation process, but he said even if it goes well, it could take up to 70 days to get his pick confirmed by Congress.

With the congressional summer recess coming up, Obama said the sooner he can make his decision, the better.

Still, there is no rushing this choice, the outcome of which will shape Obama's legacy and American constitutional law for generations to come.

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