Today’s formal retirement announcement by Supreme Court Justice David Souter did not catch the Obama team flat-footed, administration sources tell ABC News.
Indeed, administration officials have been preparing for a Supreme Court vacancy since before there was actually an Obama administration — since the early days of the transition process, just a few weeks after the election.
A working group during the transition period run by Greg Craig and Cassandra Butts — eventually the White House counsel and deputy counsel, respectively — was quickly, and quietly, named, dedicated to judicial selection. That group identified candidates for vacancies in the appellate court as well as the highest court in the land, anticipating that there would be a vacancy in the Supreme Court this term.
In December meetings in Chicago and Washington, D.C., then-president-elect Obama himself was suggesting nominees for any Supreme Court vacancy.
The review of possible nominees for the appellate and Supreme Courts became more intense after President Obama took office in January. Craig and his team almost immediately began analyzing the records and conducting background checks of nominees.
As part of that process, yesterday White House senior staffers met to organize the West Wing to prepare for a Supreme Court nominee selection process. This was even before they knew Souter’s decision was coming.
A White House official says they’re "confident" the new nominee, whoever he or she may be, will be confirmed and robed-up by the first Monday in October.
The official points out that President Bush’s first appellate court nominee was sent to the Senate in May, and President Clinton’s was sent up in August, while the Obama White House already sent up three appellate court nominees last month.