From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama met today with leaders from both parties to discuss the vacancy on the Supreme Court. They emerged from the White House saying that Mr. Obama will name his pick soon. The president is said to be mulling a short list of six names, but short lists often do not tell the whole story. To bring us up to date, here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: To get it out there, the list being passed around in the last 48 hours includes these six names: Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the federal appeals court in New York, Judge Diane Wood of the federal appeals court in Chicago, new solicitor general and former Harvard law school dean, Elena Kagan. Also, two political figures with good, but not scholarly legal credentials: Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, and Department of Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano. And one man, Judge Merrick Garland, of the federal appeals court here in Washington.

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 President Obama will leave the Supreme Court with just one woman justice.

Next, let's look at the political names: Napolitano and Granholm. Mr. Obama is said to, quote, "love" Napolitano, who's 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 Governor Granholm is another former state attorney general, a Harvard law grad, well-respected for her brains and term-limited in Michigan next year. She's a real prospect, but on this short list, she's considered a long shot.

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's Puerto Rican. Her father, a tool-and-die worker, died when she was nine. Raised by her mother, a nurse, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, then went on to Yale Law School, where she served on the Law Journal. She was, first, a federal trial judge and has served on the appeals court since 1998. She has fervent admirers and detractors. Her critics have circulated this clip from a symposium at Duke Law School where she talked about why public interest groups like to hire lawyers who've been appeals court clerks.

Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Federal Appeals Court, New York): They're looking for people with court of appeals experience because it is - court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know. And I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law, I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Judge SOTOMAYOR: Okay, I know. I'm not promoting it and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOTENBERG: Judge Diane Wood is the quintessential judge and scholar who taught at the University of Chicago Law School at the same time President 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's the co-author of the leading trade regulation text and has considerable support in the business community.

At a lecture at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, she talked with amusement about the fact that she's been cleared five times by the FBI for federal jobs.

Judge DIANE WOOD (Federal Appeals Court, Chicago): My next door neighbor told me one day that the police had come by asking about me. And I knew that this was because they were in the process of doing this security clearance. And so I said, oh. And she said, don't worry. I didn't tell them anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Judge WOOD: Somehow they gave me the clearance anyway.

TOTENBERG: Solicitor General Elena 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.

At her confirmation hearing this year for the post of solicitor general, she was asked about a memo she wrote when she served as law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1987.

Solicitor General ELENA KAGAN (Former Harvard Law School Dean): I first looked at that memo, thought about that memo for the first time in 20 years, I suppose, just a couple of days ago when it was quoted on a blog post. And I looked at it and I thought, that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Solicitor General KAGAN: So I looked at it, I said…

Unidentified Man: You don't have to go any further.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOTENBERG: White House sources say these are not the only names under consideration. There's Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and federal Judge Ann Williams, both African-Americans; Interior secretary and former Senator 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.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from