- Sonia Sotomayor, 54: A graduate of Yale Law School, Sotomayor was nominated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton. She previously served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and in private practice in New York City, specializing in intellectual property law, international litigation and commodities export trading.
- Diane Wood, 58: Serves on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and was appointed by President Clinton. The former University of Chicago professor also worked as special assistant to the attorney general between 1985 and 1987 and as deputy assistant attorney general between 1993 and 1995. She worked in general antitrust law and commercial litigation.
- Elena Kagan, 48: Confirmed as solicitor general in March 2009. A scholar in administrative law and constitutional law, Kagan served as dean of Harvard Law School for six years and as a lawyer in the White House from 1995 to 1999.
- Jennifer Granholm, 50: Elected governor of Michigan in 2002. She was named Michigan's first female attorney general in 1998. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she served previously as a federal prosecutor in Detroit.
- Janet Napolitano, 51: Until she became President Obama's homeland security secretary, Napolitano was Arizona's popular governor. She served previously as Arizona's attorney general and as a U.S. attorney.
- Leah Ward Sears, 53: Currently serving as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Sears previously served as a superior court judge in Georgia and was the youngest person to serve on Georgia's Supreme Court.
- Pam Karlan, 50: The Stanford law professor previously taught at the University of Virginia School of Law and served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Her expertise includes constitutional law, anti-discrimination law, civil procedure and employment discrimination.
- Kathleen Sullivan, 53: A constitutional law scholar, Sullivan currently teaches at Stanford Law School, where she served as dean from 1999 to 2004. She previously taught at Harvard Law School and argued cases before appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Kim Wardlaw, 54: Currently serves as a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; appointed by President Clinton. She previously served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and was in private practice from 1980 to 1995.
Leaders from both parties met with President Obama Wednesday to discuss the vacancy on the Supreme Court, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he expects a nomination soon.
Obama is said to be mulling over a short list of six names, but it's questionable how many of those names are for real. And those who know the president are not ruling out the possibility of other names as well.
In short, the list being passed around in the past 48 hours includes these names: Judge Sonia Sotomayor, of the federal appeals court in New York; Judge Diane Wood of the federal appeals court in Chicago; and new Solicitor General and former Harvard law school Dean Elena Kagan. Also, two political figures with good, but not scholarly, legal credentials: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. And one man, Judge Merrick Garland, of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
The Long Shots
First off, let's kick Garland off the serious list. He's a well-respected judge, a former prosecutor and Justice Department official who ran the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing. But not even his most ardent supporters really think that Obama will leave the Supreme Court with just one woman on the bench.
Next, let's look at the political names: Napolitano and Granholm. Obama is said to "love" Napolitano, who is a former federal prosecutor, state attorney general and governor. The president is said to trust and rely on her. So it's doubtful that he would let her go so soon, especially since he will almost certainly have another court vacancy, if not two.
Michigan Gov. Granholm is another former state attorney general, a Harvard law graduate, well-respected for her brains, and term-limited in Michigan next year. She's a real prospect, but on this short list she is considered a long shot.
Names Most Bandied About
That leaves the triumvirate mentioned most often: Sotomayor, Wood and Kagan.
Sotomayor is, to put it bluntly, a twofer, with a great personal story. She is Puerto Rican. Her father, a tool-and-die worker, died when she was 9. Raised by her mother, a nurse, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, then went to Yale Law School, where she served on the law journal. She was first a federal trial judge, and she has served on the appeals court since 1998. She has fervent admirers — and detractors.
Wood is the quintessential judge and scholar who taught at the University of Chicago Law School at the same time that Obama did. Her conservative critics point to decisions she wrote upholding a jury award for damages against abortion clinic protesters under a federal anti-racketeering law. The decisions were later reversed by the Supreme Court. Her expertise is business and trade law. She is the co-author of the leading trade regulation text and has considerable support in the business community.
Kagan has big fans among liberals and conservatives at Harvard Law School, where, as dean, she managed to put an end to the long war between the two camps. Widely respected for her academic scholarship, she worked in the Clinton White House counsel's office and in private practice. She was nominated for a federal judgeship but was blocked — along with all other nominees to the D.C. appeals court — in 1999.
And Let's Not Forget ...
White House sources say those are not the only names under consideration.
There are Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and federal Judge Ann Williams, both African-Americans; Interior Secretary and former Sen. Ken Salazar and federal Judge Kim Wardlaw, both Hispanic; and academics such as former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, Stanford's Pam Karlan and Harvard's Martha Minow. So stay tuned.