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Obama’s Supreme Court Choice: Plenty of Talent—and an Opportunity

Elena Kagan

A half dozen extraordinary women occupy the White House list of candidates to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court, according to reports. The author argues that President Obama should seize this chance to make a historic step toward true diversity at the top of the judiciary system.

Is the United States Supreme Court ready for another woman or its first African American female jurist? Six women are in serious contention for the seat of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, including Elena Kagan, Diane Wood, Jennifer Granholm, Janet Napolitano and Martha Minow. One candidate, however, is earning some unique buzz, Leah Ward Sears—an African American former Georgia chief justice who made the White House short list, as did others of the women, in 2009.

In the 220 year history of the Supreme Court, only three women have served. Of the nine current justices, only two are women and only one is African American. Progressives applauded President Obama’s selection of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, but there is more work to do in order for the nation’s highest court to reflect our nation’s rich diversity. Women make up 50 percent of the nation; shouldn’t more than two women—Justices Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—be serving on the high court?

The women on President Obama’s short list present a field rich with promise. The President told Americans in 2009 that he wanted a justice with life experiences, high intellect and the empathy factor. "Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers . . . is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court," Obama told the nation in nominating Sotomayor. All six potential nominees fit this description.

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