President Barack Obama has accelerated the search for his next Supreme Court nominee by interviewing candidates, including federal judges Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations.
Obama's roughly one-hour session with Thomas on Thursday was his first known interview for the upcoming vacancy on the court. Obama also met personally with Garland in recent days, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Obama's private deliberations.
Those two sessions are part of a series of conversations Obama is having with candidates in person or by phone. Details on those are not yet known.
But Obama is personally vetting his list of about 10 candidates, and the time frame for his announcement appears to be quickening.
Obama is choosing a nominee to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced his upcoming retirement 21 days ago. By comparison, Obama spent 25 days evaluating candidates last year before nominating judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace another justice who retired from the court, David Souter.
Garland, who serves on the U.S. appeals court in the District of Columbia circuit, is widely considered to be a top candidate. A former high-ranking Justice Department official, the 57-year-old Garland is considered unlikely to raise significant Republican opposition if he were chosen, but perhaps not great excitement from Obama's base.
Meanwhile, the personal time Obama devoted to Thomas suggests that the federal judge, well respected within legal circles but hardly a familiar name in Washington, is under a higher level of consideration by the president. Biden also interviewed Thomas at the White House on Thursday.
The news of his interview by the president and vice president works to the White House's advantage in signaling that Obama is giving a hard review to a candidate who comes from outside the Washington Beltway and does not neatly fit into conventional wisdom.
Thomas' name has been on Obama's known list of court contenders for more than two weeks. But the predictably intense speculation about whom Obama will pick has centered on other names — chiefly Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appeals court judges Diane Wood and Garland.
Among the others under consideration are federal appeals court judge Ann Williams, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow.
Obama already interviewed three of the current top contenders — Wood, Kagan and Napolitano — last year before nominating Sotomayor.
Obama's pick is not expected to upend the court's balance of power — four on the left, four on the right, one in the middle. Stevens, the retiring justice, is the leader of the court's liberals.
Thomas would offer geographic diversity. The court is dominated by justices with ties to the Northeast and the Ivy League; Thomas' career is rooted in the West — he lives in Billings, Mont., and earned his bachelor's degree from Montana State University and his law degree from the University of Montana.
The 56-year-old judge serves on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest of the nation's appellate courts. He was nominated to that job in July 1995 by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate with no controversy. The San Francisco-based appeals court on which he serves has a liberal reputation, but attorneys who know Thomas describe him as independent and plainspoken.
Source: AP News