Chicago judge passed over for high court

Appellate Court's Diane Wood to get next SCOTUS spot?
May 26, 2009 7:49:46 AM PDT
When the men in dark suits began ringing doorbells on a tree-lined west suburban street a few weeks ago, it was clear that Diane Pamela Wood had made the short list.The visitors, displaying FBI credentials and armed with a series of questions, wanted to know whether Wood had any personal quirks, hidden agendas or emotional problems that might impede her serving on the United States Supreme Court.

Wood's neighbors in Hinsdale who were interviewed by the FBI say they had nothing negative to report about her. They described her as a quiet resident, who was seen at the local grocery store shopping for her family but seldom seen at neighborhood social events.

It became apparent that Wood passed all of the preliminary tests to become a Supreme Court justice including those FBI background checks and later a personal sit-down interview with the president.

But when the final grades came out Tuesday morning, only one person could be on top and it wasn't Diane Pamela Wood.

The federal appellate judge in Chicago for the past 14 years (appointed by President Bill Clinton) did make it to a very short list of candidates for the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. Sources close to Judge Wood said that she was excited about the prospect of an appointment to the high court. Publicly she showed great restraint in even acknowledging that she was on the White House short list.

Many SCOTUS handicappers put her as the favorite as recently as late last week, considering Woods longtime friendship with President Obama and their links via the University of Chicago Law School where both were senior lecturers. Wood, 58, is still a law professor at U of C and is scheduled to hold class there Tuesday afternoon.

She had another factor in her favor: her strong ability to engage in nose-to-nose debates with the most conservative members of the Chicago appeals court.

Conservatives rule on the 7th Circuit court, composed of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana but Judge Wood has managed to make a name for herself in frequent dissenting opinions.

While Woods has been in Chicago for much of her adult life, she was born in New Jersey and relocated with her family to Texas at age 16. She attended the University of Texas for both her undergraduate degree and law school. Her daughter Katy, one of her three adult children, is currently a Texas law student.

Judge Wood is currently married to her third husband, a prominent Northwestern neurologist.

Being passed over for the slot that will be vacated by Justice David Souter does not eliminate Wood's dream of eventually making the cut. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, is being treated for pancreatic cancer, and Justice John Paul Stevens is 89-years old, raising the possibility that two other vacancies could become available.

Wood's credentials, like those of the woman who knocked her out of the running this time Sonia Sotomayor, are solidly liberal and would likely be the subject of a confirmation fight.

Among the matters that would be scrutinized:

-Judge Wood's position on the justice's role in American jurisprudence. In a lecture entitled "Our 18th Century Constitution in the 21st Century World" she concluded that judges should be able to adapt the Constitution to modern times?by invoking "unwritten" law and not be strapped by a narrow interpretation of the text.

-Wood dissented against bans on "partial-birth abortion" in Illinois and Wisconsin and wrote the dissent. The Supreme Court OK'd such bans in 2007.

-Wood ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, allowing that the organization could use the "RICO" anti-racketeering law to sue anti-abortion protesters. The RICO laws are normally used to fight organized crime. Her ruling was ultimately reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

-Wood wrote in dissent concerning an Indiana law that required in-person counseling before a woman could seek an abortion should be blocked.

-Wood penned the opinion which upheld the conviction of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, setting aside questions about whether the jury bungled portions of the case.


Load Comments