The announcement Friday that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire at the end of the court’s term has renewed speculation that President Obama might consider two constitutional scholars who are lesbians as Stevens’ successor.
Stanford University Law School professors Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan were among several candidates said to have been considered by Obama one year ago when the White House conducted a search to replace former Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
Obama chose U.S. appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Souter’s replacement, making her the high court’s first Hispanic member.
As speculation this week swirled over White House plans for selecting Stevens’ successor, three possible leading nominees emerged. The Associated Press reported that U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appeals court judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59, were the leading candidates.
But political pundits familiar with the Supreme Court noted that that Sullivan and Karlan were among the favorites of liberal advocates who want Obama to name a progressive judicial activist to the court to help counteract the court’s majority conservative wing.
“I think if the president believes that either Professor Karlan or Professor Sullivan were the best qualified for the position that he would have no problem nominating them,” said Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that advocates for the election and appointment of qualified LGBT people to public office.
“The thing to guard against for our community is the notion that sexual orientation alone should be a barrier to their consideration for a Supreme Court seat,” he said.
Some political commentators speculated that Obama most likely would seek a less controversial, center-left nominee rather than Sullivan or Karlan. They also noted that Obama’s nomination of a new Supreme Court justice comes on the heels of his bruising battle in the Senate over the health care reform bill. Public opinion polls show his and the Democrats’ popularity at an all time low going into the mid-term elections this fall.
Senate Republicans are expected to oppose almost anyone Obama nominates for the high court post, and pundits speculated this week over whether the president would be willing to expend greater political capital on a “lightening rod” nominee.
Sullivan is considered a nationally prominent scholar and teacher of constitutional law and is the author of the nation’s leading casebook on constitutional law, according to her biography posted on the Stanford University web site. The site also says she has published numerous articles in law journals on federalism, religion, speech, equality and constitutional theory. She served as dean of the law school from 1999 to 2004.
A separate biography of Karlan on the law school’s web site says she, too, is a recognized scholar and award-winning teacher at the school, as well as founding director of the law school’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. It says Karlan is also considered one of the nation’s leading experts on voting and the political process. She has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission and as assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Both women have spoken out on LGBT rights issues and are publicly identified as members of the LGBT community.