Tales from the Trail

U.S. Supreme Court advice for Obama

April 15, 2010

Someone experienced in making hard decisions with the imagination to understand how rulings affect the lives of Americans. OBAMA/

Those words of advice came from Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer as President Barack Obama searches for a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Testifying before Congress on the Supreme Court’s budget request, they gave their views about the type of person Obama should select, without getting into judicial philosophy. The U.S. Senate must confirm the nominee.

Congressman Jose Serrano, a Democrat from New York who chaired the House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, asked what legal or other experiences the nominee should have and whether it should be a judge or an elected official.

“I don’t think it matters as much what the experience is as long as it’s experience making decisions and hard decisions,” Thomas said. “It helps us if someone is from a different part of the country.”

On the current court, Thomas grew up in Georgia, Breyer previously lived in Massachusetts, and Stevens came from Chicago. Other justices were from New York, New Jersey and California, among other  places.

Although all nine of the current Supreme Court members had previously been U.S. appeals court judges, Thomas said they had different backgrounds and perspectives.

“What we look for (is) … someone we can get along with. An honest person. A person who will be conscientious,” Thomas said.

USAThomas and Breyer agreed there was no easy formula for a Supreme Court appointment.

“You have to have what I call a certain kind of imagination,” Breyer said, adding that the justices need to understand how their rulings affect the lives of Americans.

An administration official said last week that Obama is considering “about 10″ people as potential nominees. The list is believed to include U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, U.S. appeals court judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Asked at an appearance at the National Press Club who would be  a good nominee, Napolitano replied: “Whoever the president appoints.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama speaks about retirement of Justice Stevens), Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (pedestrian walks past U.S. Supreme Court building)

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