The speculation continues over who will be nominated to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. If you’re looking to follow all the latest news and rumor, in addition to reading the usual suspects, like SCOTUSblog, check out the particularly comprehensive coverage over at The Ninth Justice, a blog of the National Journal devoted to the hunt for the next Supreme Court nominee.
According to Jan Crawford of CBS News (and several other reporters), the White House is currently considering about ten possible nominees. Most of the names being bandied about are familiar, especially the three leading candidates: Judge Merrick Garland, 57, of the D.C. Circuit; Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49; and Judge Diane Wood, 59, of the Seventh Circuit. Professor Orin Kerr has a very funny post over at the Volokh Conspiracy showing just how “diverse” this trio is.
One notable name is out of the running: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The White House has indicated that it’s very happy with the work Secretary Clinton is doing in her current post, according to The Caucus blog.
And one notable name has been added to the SCOTUS speculation: Judge Sidney R. Thomas, of the Ninth Circuit (and next in line to lead that court, after current Chief Judge Alex Kozinski passes the gavel).
We know Judge Thomas — we clerked on the Ninth, presented cases to him on a screening panel, and hung out with him a bit at last year’s judicial conference — and we could see him as a Supreme Court nominee. He’s very smart and very progressive, but charming and strategic about his liberal politics, which can’t be said for all of his colleagues. In addition, as Jan Crawford notes, “he is a quintessential DC-outsider,” a graduate of the University of Montana law school whose nomination “would further a populist storyline.” So, even though he’s a white male from the Ninth Circuit — which would give Republican senators an opportunity to bash that (in)famously left-wing court — we could certainly see Judge Thomas as a possible nominee.
But a few former Ninth Circuit clerks whom we contacted about SRT (as he’s known on the Ninth) were more skeptical. Said one: “Can’t believe it is serious. Makes no sense. Some former clerk floated him for vanity purposes.”
As it turns out, a former Sid Thomas clerk might be involved in his appearance on the short list….
A different ATL source notes: “Sidney Thomas’s former clerk Ian Bassin (YLS ’06, clerked for Thomas in ’06-’07) is now Deputy Associate Counsel to the President, after being a long-time staffer for the Obama campaign in Florida. If I were a betting man, I’d figure that Ian floated the name.”
It seems like a reasonable bet to us — but just because Judge Thomas’s name was floated by a former clerk of his doesn’t mean SRT is not a credible nominee. The longer you spend in the legal profession, the more you’re realize the truth of the old adage: it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.
UPDATE: The Washington Post notes another connection that may have helped Sid Thomas make the short list:
Thomas is a close ally of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who recommended him for the 9th Circuit vacancy. Baucus’s former chief of staff, Jim Messina, is now deputy White House chief of staff.
“The country couldn’t do better,” said Baucus of Thomas. “He’s so smart. He’s so hardworking.”
Who do you think is headed off to One First Street? Express your views in the comments, and take our two reader polls. The first poll is prescriptive: of the SCOTUS finalists, who do you think SHOULD be our next justice? The second is predictive: who do you think WILL be our next justice?
Because there appears to be a general consensus as to the top three contenders — and a distinct lack of consensus as to who’s on the longer version of the short-list — we have broken out the top three separately in the polls: Judge Garland, Solicitor General Kagan, and Judge Wood. We’ve listed a fourth option, “The field / None of the above,” for those of you who think President Obama will go down another path. If you’re betting on a dark horse, feel free to make the case in the comments.
Obama’s Diverse Shortlist [Volokh Conspiracy]
Kagan, Wood and Garland Still Top Supreme Court List [Crossroads / CBS News]
The Ninth Justice [National Journal]