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The Next Supreme Court Justice Is

US Supreme Court Justice David Souter has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the term or next month. President Barack Obama now has the opportunity to name a replacement and put his stamp on the high court.

President Obama vows to have a replacement on the bench by the time the court begins its’ new term on the first Monday in October. Hmmm, sounds like a movie.

“Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president, so I’ll seek someone with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity,” Obama said.

Obama is said to prefer a woman for the job. His spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama, a former constitutional law professor in Chicago, was seeking “diversity of experience” in his nominee, and that a “rigorous” vetting process would be launched.

Only two women have served as justices –Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor who retired in 2006 — and only two African-American men, Thurgood Marshall and current Justice Clarence Thomas, who up until recently appeared to be no more than a rubber stamp Scalia conservative.

Currently four conservatives and four liberals — with moderate Anthony Kennedy, 72, holding the middle ground — compose a balance on the court.

Obama’s choice is likely to prevail in the US Senate, where Democrats hold 59 seats to the Republican’s 40, but wrangling over a successor could push the appointment beyond when court reconvenes in October.

“I trust the president will choose a nominee for the upcoming vacancy based on their experience and even-handed reading of the law, and not their partisan leanings or ability to pass litmus tests,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

The cable news pundits are making speculations as to whom will be selected.

Among the pundit’s leading contenders are solicitor general Elena Kagan, 49, a former dean of Harvard Law School who currently represents the government before the court; Hispanic judge Sonia Sotomayor, 54, who sits on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; and federal judge Diane Wood, 58, who taught at the University of Chicago at the same time as Obama.

Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan –In 1999, President Clinton tapped Kagan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, only to have the nomination blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then controlled by Republicans. But many think an Obama administration wouldn’t hesitate to tap her for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. As dean, she managed to steer Harvard Law’s first-year curriculum from a 130-year-old case law approach to a more modern problem-solving model, gaining unanimous approval for the plan in a 2006 faculty vote. Kagan, 48, whose academic work focused on First Amendment issues and administrative law, is considered a skilled con­sensus builder. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva in the D.C. Circuit and Justice Thurgood Marshall in the Supreme Court, and held a series of policy positions in the Clinton administration.

Judge Sonia Sotomayer

Judge Sonia Sotomayer

Sonia Sotomayor — A political centrist, the Bronx-born Sotomayor has been re­garded as a potential high court nominee by several presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Reared by her widowed mother after the death of her father, a tool-and-die worker, she has an attractive life narrative and an even more attractive resumé. She was an editor of the Yale Law Review, did heavy lifting as a prosecutor under legendary New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and worked in private practice as an intellectual property litigator.

She was first appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, then to the appeals court by President Clinton. In 1995, she won the gratitude of baseball fans by issuing an injunction against team owners, setting the stage for the end of the eight-month strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

Judge Diane Wood

Judge Diane Wood

Diane Wood — Judge Wood reminds some of Justice Antonin Scalia; in her opinions, like his, seeds are often planted for future cases. A Clinton appointee to the appeals court, Wood is seen as one of the country’s smartest judges. She’s a liberal who has authored a fair amount of high-profile dissents in the conservative 7th Circuit. In 2002, one such case regarded an Indiana law mandating in-clinic counseling for wom­en seeking abortions. Bucking the majority, Wood wrote that the law was burdensome to women, particularly those in rural areas.

Also said to be a front-runner is Leah Ward Sears, 53, an African-American presiding over Georgia’s state supreme court.

Leah Ward Sears

Leah Ward Sears

Leah Ward Sears — Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears has achieved a distinguished position in Georgia’s history. She was the first African-American woman to serve as Superior Court Judge in Georgia. When appointed by the Governor of Georgia in February, 1992, she was the first woman and the youngest person ever to serve on Georgia’s Supreme Court. Also, in retaining her appointed position as a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Sears became the first woman to win a contested state-wide election in Georgia.

Missing off the pundit’s list is Kathleen M. Sullivan.

Kathleen M. Sullivan

Kathleen M. Sullivan

Kathleen M. Sullivan — Sullivan, 53, was dean of Stanford Law School from 1999 to 2004, and in private practice she’s represented a wide variety of corporate clients and trade associations. But she may be more widely known for her pro bono work in high-profile cases involving civil rights and civil liberties. Considered a constitutional scholar with the ability to find clarity in complex legal concepts, Sullivan has argued four cases before the Supreme Court. She now chairs the national appellate practice group at Quinn Emanuel and is licensed to practice in California, Massachusetts and New York. Sullivan still teaches at Stanford, but she counts as her mentor Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, an avid Obama supporter.

Florida Chief Justice Peggy A. Quince

Florida Chief Justice Peggy A. Quince

The President as well as the cable pundits need to travel a little further south and take a serious look at Florida’s Chief Supreme Court Justice Peggy A. Quince.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Quince was educated and began her career in Washington, D.C. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1970 and a law degree from The Catholic University of America in 1975, she went to work as a hearing officer for Washington’s Rental Accommodations Office, which administered what was then a new rent-control law.

After a brief return to Norfolk, she opened a law office in 1978 in Bradenton, Fla.

Quince joined the state attorney general’s office in 1980 where she headed the busy Tampa bureau for five of her nearly 14 years as an assistant attorney general, handling death-penalty appeals for another three. Governor Lawton Chiles tapped her for an appellate court seat in 1993, and then during the last days of his term as Florida’s governor made her the first African American woman to serve on the state Supreme Court late in 1998. Chiles who is a legendary figure in Florida politics died four days later. Chiles’ incoming successor, Republican Jeb Bush supported Quince’s appointment, making Quince the first justice to be appointed by two different governors from differeing poltical parties.

When Quince was sworn in at a 1999 ceremony, she reserved six rows of seats for young people from her Tampa church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Her civic and community activities include membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Jack and Jill of America, Inc., the Urban League, the NAACP, and The Links, Inc.

Justice Quince has received numerous honors and awards.

In essence, Peggy A. Quince fits all the qualifications including those of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for the next U.S. Supreme Justice.

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