President Obama is nearing the final stages of review for selecting a Supreme Court nominee, summoning candidates for in-person meetings, pulling more documentation and focusing on a handful of prospects for the vacancy. Congressional and White House sources told me they think it’s possible there will be a nominee by the end of this week, but certainly in the coming two weeks.
For weeks the White House stressed the process was “very early” in, but aides said today that “it’s moved along quite a bit in the last week.” Obama’s short-ish list of nine candidates (detailed here) hasn’t expanded, but “he’s not at a place where he’s crossed people off the list,” an administration official told me today.
“We’re well into this. We’re getting there,” the official said.
The aide told me Obama has reviewed “reams and reams” of data on the potential nominees, reading memos and asking his general counsel Bob Bauer’s team for more information when gaps catch his eye. Even though the size of the list hasn’t changed, some candidates are being vetted more thoroughly, the aide said.
A handful have turned over their personal information, and in the cases of shortlister Solicitor General Elena Kagan, it’s just a matter of updating her file from the 2009 selection process and her last confirmation.
When Obama met personally with Kagan, D.C. Circuit Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Judge Sidney Thomas in the last week, he asked them not about specific rulings, precedents or issues that would come before the high court but instead about their general judicial philosophy. The official told me Obama is treating it like a conversation where he’s aiming to see how well they understand how legal rulings impact the lives of everyday Americans, one of his top priorities for the pick. Some of the meetings have been in the Oval Office. Obama has had “general conversations” on the phone with the candidates he hasn’t met in person, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.
The legal team doing the vetting and assembly of massive binders of research is still digging into the candidates, but Obama has also brought in his close circle for their feedback. He’s speaking with Vice President Joe Biden, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior political adviser David Axelrod, among others, as he gets closer to making the decision. Biden also has met personally with a handful of candidates.
Judicial sources have said they believe the nominee will be named within the week but then tempered their prediction when the oil spill worsened. Obama already has canceled a Wednesday trip to New Jersey to speak about the economy. The White House source said the oil spill hasn’t changed Obama’s timing. Either way, he’s going to be announcing someone several weeks earlier than he did for his 2009 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.
Gibbs was a little less specific in the time frame to expect the decision, saying only it would happen “in the next little bit of time.”
Once Obama chooses a nominee, the president will likely tell those involved about his choice and the White House will make the announcement public shortly thereafter. “Once the president has made a decision it’s not going to be a secret for very long,” the aide said.