Diversity, Not Politics, Key to Court Pick

Replacing liberal Souter, Obama won't change ideology, but can change makeup.

ByABC News
May 3, 2009, 3:14 PM

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2009— -- As President Obama considers his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, the buzz in Washington is less about political ideology and more about getting diversity on the bench.

Souter is one of the more liberal members of the court, so in naming his successor, Obama is not going to have a chance to swing the court further in line with his politics, the way former President Bush did with the two seats he was able to fill during his eight years in office.

Bush made his mark with two solidly conservative picks, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Roberts replaced the conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist, but Alito took the place of the more moderate Sandra Day O'Connor, who was known for casting critical swing votes.

With the new lineup, the court took a turn to the right.

But since Souter tends to vote with the liberal-leaning wing of the bench, the ideological balance of the court is expected to remain the same, so lawmakers and interest groups are making it clear that they want to see a woman or a minority pick.

There are currently seven white men, one black man and one white woman on the bench of the nation's highest court. And each of them has served as a federal appeals judge.

"I would like to see certainly more women on the court. Having only one woman on the Supreme Court does not reflect the makeup of the United States. I think we should have more women. We should have more minorities," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on "This Week."

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees, also said he'd like to see more justices from "outside the judicial monastery" -- people who have life experience that didn't necessarily include donning a black robe.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," the newly-minted Democrat, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, agreed.

Referring to the current Justices' appeals court work, he said, "That means their experiences are limited. We have a very diverse country. We need more people to express a woman's point of view or a minority point of view, Hispanic or African-American, so that somebody who has done something more than wear a black robe for most of their lives."

Specter, who announced his switch from the Republican to Democrat last week, also serves on the Judiciary Committee, and as a Republican held that party's top spot on the panel.