If Ginsburg Leaves…

The sad news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for pancreatic cancer raises the possibility that President Obama may face his first Supreme Court nomination sooner than anyone imagined. Ginsburg, a thoughtful liberal, named to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1993, has many friends and admirers in Washington and people wish her well and hope she can stay in her post.

Still, the speculation has already begun in the Beltway about who could be named to the post. Since there is only one woman on the nine-member panel, the president would be under enormous pressure to make sure the court doesn’t become all-male for the first time since 1981 when Sandra Day O’Connor was sworn in. Since Ginsburg was a leading womens rights advocate there would be all the more pressure on Obama to name a woman.

Among the possible female candidates the president could consider are Elena Kagan, the Harvard Law School dean who has been named to be solicitor general. Nancy Gertner, a district court judge in Massachusetts. If Obama’s interested in returning to the historic tradition of appointing a politician to the bench, the possibilities include Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan and a Harvard Law School graduate and former state attorney general. Janet Napolitano is the former attorney general and governor of Arizona and now Secretary of Homeland Security. Diane Wood is a federal judge in Chicago. Sonia Sotomayer, a federal judge in New York, if named, would be the first Hispanic justice. The aborted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005 suggests that the Senate and public would not settle for a second-class nominee just for gender reasons but there’s no reason to think that Obama, a former Constitutional law professor, would be interested in a personal friend over a widely respected figure.