INTERVIEW: President weighs high court picks

By Gene Cox - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – President Obama has a supreme court seat to fill, and today he made clear he'll be choosing a candidate who will consider personal privacy and women's rights. Justice John Paul Stevens announced he is retiring this summer. The president says he plans to have a nominee by the end of May at the latest.

University of Richmond Law Professor Kevin Walsh joins us on First at Four to talk about the president's big decision. And replacing Supreme Court nominee is always a big deal. Always a major thing. The court is fairly balanced right now between liberal and conservative.

Gene Cox: Stevens started out conservative and graduated to the left over his tenure, so the president has got to make a close call on this.

Kevin Walsh: The president has a very important decision to make. The choice of a Supreme Court justice is one of the most important that a president can make. Gerald Ford when he was speaking about Justice Stevens said he was prepared to have his presidency judged exclusively if necessary --

Gene Cox:
It was Ford who nominated Stevens.

Kevin Walsh: Right, on his performance on the bench. He has been on the bench for 35 years, so once you put someone on the Supreme Court, they serve for life. So it is very important.

Gene Cox:
Is there any way to have a feel for -- I mean, a lot of names have been floated around, and do you see any names that you think might be on the short list?

Kevin Walsh: Well, only what everyone else has seen. I think historically when you have successive nominations in successive years, the person chosen in the second year is someone who is in that small group of candidates who almost made it the prior year. And so someone like the Solicitor General Elena Kagan has been mentioned, Diane Wood, who is a circuit court judge on the 7th circuit, which out in the Midwest, Merritt Garland from the D.C. circuit, these are all names that have been mentioned prominently.

Gene Cox:
It will be someone who is a judge, don't you think? But it doesn't have to be.

Kevin Walsh: It doesn't have to be. In fact, some of the senators have been saying that it would be nice if it weren't someone who is a judge, so, for instance, Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General right now, has never been a judge, and she's not currently a judge. And so -- and she is mentioned very prominently. So there is a chance that it wouldn't be a judge. Going back to 1986 since the nomination of Justice Scalia, all the successful Supreme Court nominees have been circuit court judges. One of the nominees was not, and that was Harriet Miers, White House Council. So it is a safe bet to pick a circuit court judge, but some of the senators are saying maybe let's try something different this time.

Gene Cox:
You don't think Hillary Clinton's name will come into the mix, do you?

Kevin Walsh: It has early on, and she said that she wasn't interested. She wants to serve the country as Secretary of State.

Gene Cox:
All right, thank you very much, Kevin, for coming in. And whoever he chooses, it is going to survive 60 votes in the senate.

Kevin Walsh: That's the magic number. And perhaps there won't be a filibuster, but we'll see.

See the video at right for the full interview.

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