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April 20, 2010

Obama to Name Supreme Court Justice By End of May

U.S. President Barack Obama says he hopes to nominate a new Supreme Court justice by the end of May.  The president has met with key Senators from both parties, who will lead the confirmation process.  

Before meeting with the lawmakers, President Obama said Wednesday he will "certainly" make his choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens at or before the end of May.

The president is calling for a Senate confirmation vote before the lawmakers recess in August, so the new justice can join the nine-member court when its new session starts in October.

"My hope is that we are going to be able to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in time for the next session," said the presodent. "As Justice Stevens said, I think it is very important, particularly given the important cases that may be coming before the Supreme Court, that we get this process wrapped up," he said.

Mr. Obama met with the top Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy, and the committee's leading Republican, Jeff Sessions, also talked with the president about his upcoming nomination.

After the meeting, Senator Leahy said he wants to keep politics out of the confirmation process as much as possible.

"I am not looking for a nominee who is there for Republicans or Democrats.  I want somebody who is there for the American people," said Leahy.

Susan Low Bloch, a professor of law at Washington's Georgetown University, expects opposition Republicans in the Senate to fight the nomination, whoever it may be.  But she believes a nomination will be approved in a timely manner.

"I do not think the process will be quick, and I do not think it will be quiet, but yes, I do think that the person will be able to take his or her seat by the time the court convenes in October," she said.

As with most Supreme Court nominations in recent decades, Mr. Obama says the issue of abortion will be "hugely contentious."

The president says he will not make a nomination based on a candidate's views on the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion.  But he says he will take those views into consideration.

"I do not have litmus tests around any of these issues, but I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights," the president said.

Justice Stevens announced his retirement on April 9, after 35 years on the high court.  He is the longest-serving of the nine current justices, and at age 90 is the second-oldest justice ever.

Although he was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford, Stevens has, in recent years, led the more liberal wing of the court.  

The White House has not revealed the names of any potential nominees.

Most Washington media speculation has centered on three possibilities:  U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, and federal judge Diane Wood.  All three were reported to have been considered for the high court last year.

Reports say others are also being considered, possibly including some elected officials as well as judges.

This will be Mr. Obama's second opportunity to fill a Supreme Court opening.  Last year the Senate confirmed his choice of Sonia Sotomayor, making her the court's first Hispanic justice.