Top contenders for upcoming court nomination

May 9, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Justice Stevens announced his retirement last month. Of the four names are being mentioned as the top contenders, three have strong Chicago ties.

Diane Wood is a Chicago appeals court judge, Washington appeals court Judge Merrick Garland grew up in Lincolnwood, and Elena Kagen is a former University of Chicago law school professor.

Without a Chicago connection, and the only non-ivy league contender, is 9th circuit court Judge Sidney Thomas.

President Obama's words to college graduates at Hampton University Sunday focused on the high tech 24/7 media environment that he says potentially has a negative impact on politics. It's the same online environment that has been used to predict who will be the president's Supreme Court pick to replace Stevens.

"I don't think anybody that he appoints will go through unanimously, but I think the number of people who have been talked about will go through relatively easily," said Ronald Allen, a Northwestern University law professor.

While Kagen and Wood appeared with Justice Stevens last week in Chicago, law experts say none of the four candidates will be a mirror image of Stevens.

Kagen, 50, is rumored as the top contender. She is currently the U.S. solicitor general, and in addition to having been a law professor at the University of Chicago, she is also the former dean of Harvard Law.

"The significance of that it was a fractious faculty with some difficulties, and she was able to bring the left/right together," said Allen.

However Professor Allen says, regardless of who they are appointed by, it is very difficult to predict how a nominee will end up affecting the balance of the court.

"The court did move to the right, but not as dramatic as you would predict ," Allen said.

Because the Supreme Court is the court of last resort, Allen says issues that come before the nine justices are always difficult ones that are hard to find in a nominee's judicial past.

"They are politically difficult ones nd the ones for which there are no good answers. If there were good answers, these questions don't get to the Supreme Court," said Allen.

Allen also says one issue the new court may be faced with is the health care reform bill. President Obama began with what is believed to be a list of about 10 candidates, including another Chicago judge, Ann Williams.

While four appear to be the top contenders, it is being widely reported that Obama is likely to choose Elena Kagen.

Kagen is the only potential nominee who is not a judge.

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