Within the past several weeks, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has dropped several hints that he might be about to announce his retirement.   Even though nothing’s definite yet, the news media and the legal blogs are busy speculating about possible replacements. Here’s the roundup – both the “short list” and some of the long shots:

According to The Washington Post’s blog, The Swamp, Jess Bravin of The Wall Street Journal  and Mark Sherman at The Associated Press, there are only three names on the list:

  • Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the former Dean of Harvard Law School,  who has served as Solicitor General since 2009;
  • Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit.  Before her appointment, Judge Wood was Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department; and
  • Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit. Judge Garland was Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton before his elevation to the Court of Appeals.

Kevin Rudin of National Public Radio lists General Kagan and Judges Wood and Garland as the front-runners, but suggests two intriguing possibilities:

Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog writes that there is only one real candidate: General Kagan. Nevertheless, he handicaps a number of additional possibilities in addition to Judges Wood and Garland and Governor Granholm:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton;
  • Professor Cass R. Sunstein, who is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, and currently serves as Administrator of the Office of Management and Budget Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs;
  • Attorney General Eric Holder;
  • Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Governor Patrick served as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the Clinton Justice Department. From 2000 through 2004, he was General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Coca-Cola; and
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  Senator Klobuchar served as a county prosecutor for several years and later was in private practice.

At the New York Times, Peter Baker lists a number of these candidates and adds four new ones:

  • Professor Harold Koh, former Dean of Yale Law School, where he specialized in international law, and now the Legal Adviser to the State Department;
  • Professor Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford, who specializes in voting rights and the political process;
  • Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, who was both in private practice for a number of years before his election to Congress in 1983; and
  • Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who was a long-time local prosecutor before her election as state Auditor.

Finally, Law 360 interviewed appellate specialists from leading firms around the country, asking them to complete this sentence: “If I were Obama, My Supreme Court Pick Would Be . . ."

The results were interesting and – with the exception of General Kagan’s six votes – showed little overlap with the list of candidates discussed above. Aside from Professor Kathleen Sullivan of Stanford Law School, an authority on constitutional law who was prominently mentioned last year when Justice Souter retired, the only new candidate receiving more than one nomination was the person I suggested:

"In nominating a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, President Obama should seek not only a brilliant lawyer, but someone who would bring a breadth of real-world experience to a Court which today consists of nine former judges from the Federal Circuits.  Through most of the twentieth century, Supreme Court nominees were frequently drawn from outside the Federal appellate courts, including Congress, the Cabinet and the private bar.  President Obama should revive that tradition by nominating Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Over the next decade, the Supreme Court will likely face a range of important issues in criminal law, including Federal sentencing, the death penalty, habeas corpus and issues arising from the Government’s anti-terrorism efforts.  Senator Whitehouse would bring an important perspective to these issues, having served as both a United States Attorney and as his state’s Attorney General before his election to the Senate, as well as serving on the Judiciary Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate.

In addition, the Court will certainly be asked over the next several years to define the parameters of its recent landmark cases impacting both the legislative and political process, such as Heller v. District of Columbia and Citizens United v. FEC.  Having served in both the state and Federal government, Senator Whitehouse would bring a deep understanding of those worlds, far removed from the judiciary, to the Court’s debates.

In his four years in the Senate, Senator Whitehouse has demonstrated not only that he has a keen legal mind, but has shown himself to be an incisive, aggressive investigator in Senate committee rooms.  Two of the finest twentieth-century Justices — Hugo Black and Earl Warren — held political office before joining the Court.  President Obama should elevate another: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse."