Factbox: Obama’s possible Supreme Court nominees

(BestGrowthStock) – Three leading candidates have emerged to be considered by President Barack Obama if U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens decides to retire as expected, according to Obama administration officials and legal experts.

The retirement of Stevens, the top liberal on the court, would give Obama his second appointment to the high court. Obama last year selected U.S. appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York City for the vacancy created by Justice David Souter’s retirement.

Following is a look at the three potential contenders.

* Elena Kagan, 49, is the U.S. solicitor general, appointed by Obama in January last year to argue cases before the Supreme Court. She is the first female solicitor general, working at the U.S. Justice Department as the federal government’s top appellate attorney.

A former Harvard Law School dean, Kagan was one of the finalists for last year’s Supreme Court vacancy before Obama selected Sotomayor.

Kagan, known for a keen legal intellect, won support from conservatives at Harvard. She previously served as associate White House counsel to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where Obama also taught.

She was a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His appointment in 1967 marked the last time that a solicitor general had been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Kagan won confirmation as solicitor general by a 61-31 vote in the Senate. Some Republicans voiced concern about her lack of courtroom experience and her opposition to on-campus military recruiting at Harvard because of U.S. policy barring gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

* Diane Wood, 59, a U.S. appeals court judge in Chicago, also knows Obama from teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. She also had been among the finalists for last year’s Supreme Court opening.

The highly regarded Wood served in the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division during the Clinton administration and is widely considered one of the nation’s top experts on international competition law.

The oboe-playing Wood, a strong supporter of abortion rights, is seen as a moderate liberal who could provide an intellectual counterpoint to the court’s conservatives.

Nominated to the appeals court by President Bill Clinton in 1995, Wood won unanimous confirmation by the Senate.

* Merrick Garland, 57, is a U.S. appeals court judge in Washington, D.C. Born in Chicago, Garland has been considered a judicial moderate, known for writing well-reasoned and thorough opinions.

President Bill Clinton named Garland to the appeals court and in 1997 he won Senate approval by a 76-23 vote. He previously worked in the U.S. Justice Department during the Clinton administration as a top aide to the deputy attorney general.

Garland’s responsibilities included supervising the investigation into the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City and the prosecution of “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, who killed three people and injured 23 others in a bombing campaign that began in 1978.

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(Compiled by James Vicini; Editing by David Alexander and Will Dunham)

Factbox: Obama’s possible Supreme Court nominees