WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama sought advice from congressional leaders on Wednesday as he pondered a broad group of candidates for a Supreme Court opening ranging from judges to a member of his Cabinet.
Under consideration are several women, including Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who argues for the government before the Supreme Court and two U.S. appeals court judges, Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, according to a source familiar with Obama's thinking.
Also in the mix are Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Many analysts believe Obama will be inclined to add a second woman to the nine-member court.
The source said California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno was being considered as well.
Appointed for life, Supreme Court justices decide such divisive issues as abortion rights and the death penalty. The court even decided the 2000 presidential election.
The nominee will succeed David Souter, who is retiring from the high court. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority and the new justice is unlikely to change that ideological makeup.
Obama is expected to announce his choice in coming weeks to provide the Senate plenty of time to consider the nomination in hopes of seating the new justice by the time the court begins its next session in October.
Obama sought advice from two senior Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, as well as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
The meeting was the latest in a series of consultations he has held with senators. One of his aims in the discussions is to urge a toning down of the partisan atmosphere that typically surrounds nominations to the Supreme Court.
SEEKING QUICK CONFIRMATION
After the meeting, Reid told reporters he expected a decision soon. Sessions said afterward that Obama gave no indication his announcement was imminent, but my impression was he doesn't want to let it take too long.
Reid said they discussed how quickly the Senate Judiciary Committee would be able to consider the nomination and that Obama wanted a nominee who can get through the Senate as quickly as possible.
Republicans want judges who will strictly interpret the U.S. Constitution. Obama's recent statement that he would like a nominee empathetic to the concerns of everyday Americans worried some Republicans.
I thought empathy implied you were on somebody's side before you heard the case. We did have a discussion about the importance of following the law and not acting like a legislator on the bench, McConnell said.
Leahy said that since Obama was a constitutional law professor, he understands as well as anybody who is a good judge.