After the sudden death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, President Obama has the opportunity to move the country’s highest court toward the left by tapping a more liberal-leaning successor.
Immediately after news of Scalia’s death broke, diverse options for the top job were being floated along with a debate online among Senate leaders about whether lame duck Obama should be the one to nominate the next justice.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Saturday in a statement.
“Therefore this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly fired back saying that “it would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat.”
“Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”
Legal experts think Republicans might block an Obama appointee until he’s out of office, leaving the court with a gaping vacant seat for nearly a year.
“I think Republicans will make every effort to block the nomination,” Stephen Wermiel, Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law told the Daily News. “Even to the point of shedding blood in the aisles of the Senate if they have to.”
Obama said Saturday that he intends to be the one to choose Scalia’s replacement.
Here’s who’s on deck:
The 48-year-old moderate D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, has already been labeled Obama’s “Supreme Court nominee in waiting,” by The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Barron are possible choices to vault to Supreme Court.
Widely seen as the most likely choice, he would be the first Indian-American justice on the highest court.
Srinivasan is poised to be chosen for the Supreme on the D.C. Circuit Court, the second-highest court where John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all were nominated from.
The Lawrence, Kansas native most famously argued against the Defense of Marriage Act while he was the Obama Administration’s principal deputy solicitor general.
Watford, a 48-year-old African-American Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge who Obama said “has displayed exceptional dedication to the legal profession throughout his work,” after his 2012 confirmation.
He was nominated with broad bipartisan support to the Ninth Circuit Court in 2011.
Even Daniel Collins, Antonin Scalia’s clerk at the time, praised Watford’s confirmation.
“I don’t think he’ll approach the job with any kind of agenda other than to do what is right and consistent with precedent as he understands it,” Collins said in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times.
First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Barron would be a controversial choice for Obama.
Barron notoriously authored a secret memo which justified Obama’s decision to order drone strikes on Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who became a radicalized Islamic militant living in Yemen.
The ACLU called the memo a “disturbing” legal precedent for drone strikes.
Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia died suddenly of natural causes on Saturday, Feb. 13 at a West Texas ranch.
Garland is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and is known for having lead prosecutions in the Oklahoma City bombing and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski cases while he was the Associate Deputy Attorney General from 1994 to 2013.
“His name has been kicking around for a while. He’s not an extremely liberal Democrat, he’s sort of centrist,” Wermiel, the American University law professor, said.
Obama has already nominated two female Supreme Court justices early on in his presidency–in 2009, he picked Bronx-native Sonia Sotomayor and in 2010 he chose New Yorker Elena Kagan.
Why not more women on the highest court?
Loretta Lynch was recently nominated and confirmed with bipartisan support to be the U.S. Attorney General in April 2015.
She came out swinging in her new role, already filing a discrimination lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri and indicting nine FIFA executives for the match-fixing scandal.
Lynch, who was the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney before her recent promotion, would be the first black woman as a justice, to boot.
Patricia Ann Millett
D.C. Circuit judge Patricia Ann Millett, another Harvard Law School alum, has spent most of her career practicing corporate law at the firm Miller & Chevalier
She has argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and holds a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, according to her profile on the U.S. Court of Appeal site.