White House Prepares for Possibility of 2 Supreme Court Vacancies

SCOTUS watchers believe justices Stevens, Ginsburg could decide to step aside.

ByABC News
February 3, 2010, 4:08 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2010— -- Lawyers for President Obama have been working behind the scenes to prepare for the possibility of one, and maybe two Supreme Court vacancies this spring.

Court watchers believe two of the more liberal members of the court, justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could decide to step aside for reasons of age and health. That would give the president his second and third chance to shape his legacy on the Supreme Court.

Last week, when Obama took the nearly unprecedented step of criticizing the court's opinion in a major campaign finance case during his State of the Union speech, some believed he was showcasing for the American people that presidential elections, and Supreme Court nominations count.

"With all due deference to separation of powers," the president said, " last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities."

Doug Kendall, of the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, said the president's message was clear: "President Obama's spirited reaction to Citizens United at the State of the Union indicates he fully understands the importance of the federal judiciary and the ability of the Supreme Court to stand in the way of his administration's agenda."

Kendall hopes Obama's dressing down of the majority will translate into greater attention to the judicial nomination and confirmation process.

Although five of the six justices who attended the speech sat poker faced when Obama made his comments, Justice Samuel Alito, who voted with the majority, reacted by shaking his head in irritation.

If a justice from the conservative block like Alito were to would retire, there could be a seismic shift on the court, likely giving Obama the chance to reverse the court's majority voting bloc. But speculation has centered on the liberal end of the bench.