According to the Washington Post President Obama may have the chance to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. This time it has come from a reliable source. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a question and answer session among law students made the a vague statement suggesting the possibility.
Justice Ginsburg, soon to be 76, is recovering from cancer surgery. However, Justice Ginsburg is not the oldest serving Justice. Justice John Paul Stevens will soon be 89 years old and one has to wonder how much longer he will be able to serve. While age is not an indication of one's capacity to work, it does become a factor. A vacancy on the Court this early could be an advantage to the the new Obama Administration. With the Senate at a new high of 58, soon to be 59, Democratic members could provide the possibility of an easy nomination process. Obama would not have to worry about pleasing Republican moderates to obtain a confirmation.
The question now is, of course, who will be leaving and who could possibly be nominated. The two best possibilities are Justice Stevens or Justice Ginsburg. However, Justice Ginsberg also commented on Justice Souter's failure to hire new law clerks and his dislike of Washington. Justice Souter does prefer his home in New Hampshire to the highly charged political life of Washington. This would be the surprise resignation as Justice Sourter is younger and in beter health than Justices Ginsburg or Stevens.
Who could be the possible nominees? First, Governor Jennifer Grandholm from Michigan. Grandholm was elected Attorney General of Michigan in 1998 and then Governor in 2002. There are term limits in Michigan and she is midway through her last term. In addition, she may not be that controversial given her crossover potential in Michigan. Another possibility would be former Maine Senator George Mitchell. As the architect of the peace in Northern Ireland, shaky as it might be, he manged to get the parties to at lease agree to cease fire. Also a former Senate Majority leader, he still has some political connections that may be pushing for him. Despite the fact that Mitchell may be as old as the people he is replacing, he would be a good justice. However, the President will probably want to pick someone a bit younger. Also, the President is still early in his term of office and has much clout. Hence, he still has much goodwill on Capitol Hill. A nomination of this sort is what many in political scientists call a "place holder" nomination. Mitchell would be a nominee that would hold the place until the political environment was more amenable to a stronger choice. I would say if a nominee of this sort would signify that that the Obama Adminsitration may not be willing to go into political battle with the reiligous right, as yet.
Another nominee that might have potential, and I am going out on a limb for this one, might be former President Bill Clinton. Now before I get a ton of comments, think about this possibility in the context of nominees. He is eminently qualified and has had a legal background, both as an attorney and a defendant. But while many may see this as controversial and a shock. I would say that it is not any more shocking than Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. And there is a precedent for former Presidents serving on the Court. William Howard Taft was President from 1909-1913 and then Chief Justice in the 1920s. There was also Charles Evans Hughes who became a Supreme Court Justice in the early twentieth century, resigned to run for President in 1916 and almost won, and was then re-nominated to become Chief Justice after Taft died. In addition, Clinton despite his personal life, left office with higher ratings than Ronald Reagan and may not be as unlikely as previously thought. Obama has some political debts to pay to the Clintons. They could have easily split the Democratic party, and don't think that they could or would not if they had wanted. They would have brought with them a whole bunch of Democrats and Obama would not have been in the position he is right now. Secretary of State Clinton worked very hard for Obama as she had promised and there is much duty exchanged between the two. All in all it might prove to be an interesting confirmation process if chosen.
Another possibility who has been mentioned in the press is Judge David Hamilton from the US Court of Appeals. He might be the nominee who reflects the Obama Administration's intentions. If a nominee of this sort is named, it would be evidence that the Administration would be willing to do battle politically.
Despite this speculation, and it is just speculation, we will not know until it happens. However, If a Justice is considering resigning, I would suspect that if it does not happen before June of this year it may not happen at all. June gives the Obama Administration time to find a nominee in before the October session begins. This is provided that someone resigns.