President Obama will have an opportunity few presidents get this early in their term, the chance to select a Supreme Court justice. Mr. Obama is reviewing potential choices over the Memorial Day holiday (May 25) at the presidential retreat Camp David outside Washington. His advisers have been vetting possible candidates ever since Justice David Souter announced he will retire in June.
The makeup of the nine member U.S. Supreme Court is about to change. President Obama will nominate someone to replace Justice David Souter who is retiring in June.
The President says he knows the kind of justice he wants.
"I view that quality of empathy - or understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles - as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes," he said.
Mr. Obama's advisers have been vetting possible candidates. And White House officials say Mr. Obama is familiar with several of the top prospects.
Some political observers believe Mr. Obama's may select a woman. Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice, retired in 2006 leaving Justice Ruth Ginsberg as the only woman on the court.
"Well at the end of the day we still think that a wise old woman and a wise old man usually come to the same conclusion and they probably do," said former justice O'Connor. "But that doesn't answer what it is that America expects to see when they look at the federal bench or the state Supreme Court bench."
The White House has been quiet about its choices. This group of likely top contenders includes mostly women with solid legal experience. All here are lawyers and some are judges. Two of the prospects, like Mr. Obama, were professors at the University of Chicago Law School.
U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan has been mentioned as one of the people Mr. Obama is considering. At a legal forum, she joked about the similarities between her job and that of a Supreme Court justice.
"The Solicitor General, because of these practices, should be called the "Tenth Justice," she said. "Now I don't think that the nine justices would agree with that. Sometimes I think that the nine justices think that the Solicitor General is the 35th clerk."
Observers say with Hispanics as the fastest growing minority group, Mr. Obama could be considering a Latino for the post. Ramona Romero is president of the Hispanic National Bar Association.
"By the year 2050, the expectation is that Hispanics will represent about 30 percent of the US population. That is the context for why the decisions of a court that impacts the lives of all Americans should be informed by the Hispanic experience," said Ms. Romero.
The U.S. Senate must approve Mr. Obama's choice. Senators are likely to ask tough questions of the nominee when hearings begin on Capitol Hill. Conservative groups are expected to oppose any nominee they see as being what they call activist. Conservatives believe that the Justices should interpret the U.S. Constitution the way the founding fathers, in the 18th century, intended it.
"We elect policy makers, the president, the legislature, the governors, the state legislators. The judges' job is to interpret the laws that they pass, not to be policy makers in and of themselves and that's why strict constructionism is important, it is the only method of judicial, interpretation that tells the judge you are an umpire not a policy maker," explained Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative group Committee for Justice.
During Mr. Obama's presidency, the court could take up cases involving administration policies and controversial issues such abortion, state laws that allow same sex marriage and controversial immigration reform measures. The president has already met with key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee which will be the first to consider his pick. With some older justices on the current court, Mr. Obama's selection could well be the first of several during his presidency.