Here Are Obama’s Potential Supreme Court Nominees
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of natural causes this weekend at age 79. Scalia leaves behind a Court that splits more or less evenly along ideological lines, and a slate of cases likely to result in a 4-4 tie as long as his seat remains vacant. Obama has pledged to move swiftly to nominate a replacement, despite staunch opposition from Senate Republicans.
Asked Tuesday afternoon whether it’s safe to assume he’ll nominate a moderate, the president said, “You shouldn’t assume anything other than they’ll be well-qualified.”
That’s fair enough, but it is instructive to look at the characteristics shared by most successful Supreme Court nominees, to help parse who the president might pick. They’re typically in their late 40s to early 50s (53 is the average age at the time of a justice’s confirmation). Most candidates have argued before the Supreme Court, clerked for one of the Court’s justices and/or worked as a circuit court judge. Many successful nominees — including John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas and Scalia — came from the D.C. circuit court. And Obama has always prized diversity when it comes to his judicial nominees; there’s no reason to believe he’ll abandon that principle now.
Here are a handful of individuals who fit that profile and whose names have been floated by legal experts.
The name most frequently invoked since news of Scalia’s death broke on Saturday is that of 48-year-old Srinivasan. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the D.C. circuit court in 2013, a fact that would make it somewhat awkward for those same Republicans — including presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — to block his confirmation to the Supreme Court now. Srinivasan’s background appeals to both parties: He clerked for Reagan appointee Sandra Day O’Connor, and has worked for both the Bush and Obama administrations. Some liberals are wary of his record; for instance, he’s argued before the Supreme Court that ENRON President Jeffrey Skilling should be granted a new trial and that Exxon should be immune from liability for human rights abuses agents for the corporation carried out abroad. Then again, he represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, and worked on the case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Ted Cruz — who has threatened to filibuster any Obama nominee — has called Srinivasan a longtime “friend.”
Watford, 48, is another candidate who has a history of working for both conservatives and liberals. Before he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2012, he clerked for the Ninth Circuit’s Alex Kozinski — one of the country’s most well-known conservatives judges — and later for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Watford was confirmed to his present post by a vote of 61-34. Nine Republicans voted in favor of his appointment; Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Judicial committee, was not among them, on the basis of Watford’s views on immigration and the death penalty. (Watford worked with the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center to contest Arizona’s infamous immigration bill, SB 1070.)