New Supreme Court nominee speculation thread

MSNBC’s First Read reported today:

Per NBC’s Pete Williams and Savannah Guthrie, administration officials say at least eight names are on President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Six are women and two men. The names: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland of the DC Court of Appeals, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former George Supreme Court Chief Judge Leah Ward Sears, Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Of these names, people outside the government but familiar with White House thinking say the serious contenders are Kagan, Wood, Garland, Napolitano, and Granholm. Guthrie adds that Obama is likely to meet next week with key senators to discuss the vacancy. Many of the new additions are about interest group appeasement. And note the growing concern in the liberal/progressive blogosphere about Kagan.

One person who doesn’t sound concerned about Kagan is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“I like her,” he said, quickly adding, “and that might hurt her chances.”

Graham, whose support for Justice Sonia Sotomayor last summer was a turning point in her confirmation process, said he liked Kagan’s answers about national security and the president’s broad authority to detain enemy combatants when she was going through her own Senate confirmation.

Both of President Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees had received a private stamp of approval from key Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. My hunch is that Graham’s kind words for Kagan help her chances with President Obama. He loves to position himself as a moderate between the left and the right.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Chris Bowers made the case for Sears here.

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Justice Stevens confirms plan to retire this year

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has confirmed that he will retire this June, as court observers have anticipated for some time. According to the Washington Post,

Aides and Democrats close to the process named three people as likely front-runners for the job: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whom Obama appointed as the first woman to hold the post, and two appellate court judges, Diane Wood of Chicago and Merrick Garland of Washington.

I’m relieved to know that the Senate will be able to confirm Stevens’ successor while Democrats still have a sizable majority. We are likely to lose 3-8 Senate seats this November.

Whomever Obama appoints will probably get a lecture from Senator Chuck Grassley during confirmation hearings this summer. With any luck the person will turn out not to be “aggressive” and “obnoxious.”

Any comments or predictions about the upcoming Supreme Court nomination are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Chris Bowers makes the case for former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears.

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John Norris confirmed at FERC

Catching up on some news from last week, the Senate confirmed more than 30 of President Obama’s nominees right before Christmas, including Iowa’s own John Norris for a spot on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Norris and his wife Jackie Norris were key early Obama supporters here. After Obama’s inauguration, Norris served as chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but he always planned to move to the FERC if possible. He is well qualified for the position after spending several years on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Jackie Norris served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama for several months before moving to a senior advisor position at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

John Norris’ confirmation was overshadowed by news that the Senate rejected six Obama nominees without even giving them a vote. The most prominent name on that list was Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel. For more on that story, read commentaries by Daniel de Groot at Open Left, bmaz at Firedoglake, and Turkana at the Left Coaster. Senator Ben Nelson helped Senate Republicans stall Johnsen’s nomination in the spring.

UPDATE: Kay Henderson posted Norris’ official bio and some statements reacting to his confirmation at the FERC.

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Grassley will vote no on Sotomayor

Senator Chuck Grassley’s office announced today that he will vote against confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve posted Grassley’s statement after the jump. The gist is, he acknowledges Sotomayor’s “credentials on paper” but has unanswered questions about her judicial philosophy. He doesn’t trust her to apply the law without regard for her “personal biases and prejudices.” He also disliked “her lack of clear and direct answers to simple questions regarding the Constitution” during her confirmation hearings. For the last 20 years, Supreme Court nominees have tried to avoid answering specific questions about issues that are likely to come before the court.

Grassley’s opening statement during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings expressed concern about some of her speeches, including the infamous “wise Latina” remark. He had some contentious exchanges with the judge in subsequent days.

Grassley voted against confirming Judge Sotomayor for the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998, but he said last month that he could not remember why.

Most Senate Republicans plan to vote against Sotomayor, but at least five have said they will support her confirmation: Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

UPDATE: Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan’s statement is also after the jump.

LATE UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 on Tuesday to confirm Sotomayor, sending her nomination to the full Senate.

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Senate finally confirms Sebelius; Grassley votes no

President Barack Obama’s cabinet is complete just in time for his 100th day in office, now that the Senate has confirmed Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services secretary by a vote of 65 to 31. Senator Chuck Grassley joined most of his Republican colleagues in voting no, citing her ties to George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions.

When Obama picked Sebelius I didn’t expect her confirmation to become controversial, since she is a popular Democratic governor in a conservative state. (Both of the Republican senators representing Kansas voted to confirm Sebelius.) However, anti-abortion groups have been fighting the nomination because when asked how much money Dr. Tiller had donated to her, Sebelius initially reported only his contributions to her campaign funds and not his contributions to her political action committee.

For a time Republicans threatened to filibuster Sebelius’s nomination, but they never appeared to have the votes to support a filibuster. Grassley indicated last week that although he opposed Sebelius, he would not have backed a filibuster of her nomination.

Republicans did manage to hold up her confirmation vote for a while. The silver lining behind that obstructionist cloud was that Sebelius remained governor long enough to veto a bill that would have paved the way for two huge coal-burning power plants in Kansas.

Sebelius’s 31 no votes in the Senate make her the second most-controversial Obama cabinet member. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was opposed by 34 senators, including both Grassley and Tom Harkin.

Earlier this year it seemed that Republican opposition would be strongest to Obama’s choice for attorney general, but Eric Holder drew only 21 no votes in the Senate. Grassley voted to confirm Holder despite some doubts, saying he was influenced by his (then Republican) colleague Arlen Specter.

Grassley also voted for the fourth most controversial Obama nominee, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Seventeen Republican senators voted against her confirmation.

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Update on cabinet appointments and confirmations

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama’s better cabinet appointments.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:

So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.

It is worth noting what sort of ideas Judd Gregg has for the economy: a commission of center-right insiders operating in secret and circumventing Congress in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis’s confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?

Democrats won’t even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg’s term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that’s not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.

All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a dispatch from bizarro world, Politico’s David Rogers still isn’t convinced that Obama is serious about bipartisanship, even though Gregg will become the third Republican in his cabinet and will be replaced by a Republican in the Senate:

Obama, while talking a good game about bipartisanship, is draining the Senate of the very talent he needs to achieve this goal.

If only Obama were merely “talking a good game about bipartisanship.”

Speaking of Senate Republicans, Kagro X put up a good post on prospects for a filibuster of the economic stimulus bill, and Chris Bowers posted a “whip count” here, concluding that

Overall, it seems highly likely that the stimulus will pass without Republicans forcing major changes. However, given the narrow margins, this is not a guarantee.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill on Wednesday. Grassley has already spoken out against what he calls the “stimulus/porkulus bill.”

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