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President Obama To Name New Supreme Court Justice

Mar 16, 2016
Originally published on March 16, 2016 5:56 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This morning, here, President Obama will announce his nomination to the Supreme Court. He will be making that announcement in the Rose Garden at 11 a.m. Eastern time. We'll be covering that, of course. There's been much speculation about who that nominee might be. No one knows for sure, but NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has some ideas, and she's with us now. Good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have reported that originally - and this is in the last few days - the president had interviewed five people, but that basically the list is down to three. Very briefly, who are the three?

TOTENBERG: Very briefly, the three are Merrick Garland, who is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals here in Washington, D.C., and has been on the bench for almost two decades and is widely respected. Sri Srinivasan from the same court here in Washington, D.C., who's much younger. He's 49 years old, and if nominated, he would be the first South Asian and the first Hindu nominated to the court. And lastly, Paul Watford from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who, if nominated, would be the third African-American nominated to the court.

MONTAGNE: And Nina, is there any sense of a favorite? The name Sri Srinivasan has been out there a lot.

TOTENBERG: Yes. I think that in the rumor mill last night, it was Sri Srinivasan - that he would combine all the things the president is looking for. He was confirmed by the Senate to this position, I think, four years ago by a 97-0 vote. He would be a first, like some of the other Obama appointments to the court. Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latino appointed to the court - Latina appointed to the court. And so his name is certainly the one that I was hearing last night when I was making calls - that it was between him and Judge Garland.

Judge Garland has a lot of Republicans who've said wonderful things over the years. And there is at least, I would have to say, an inference from some Republicans that if he were nominated, he would be confirmed after the election if the Democrats win. But of course, if the Democrats win, the likelihood is that the Republicans would go ahead and confirm either one of these two men on the theory that anybody that Hillary Clinton would nominate would be more liberal.

MONTAGNE: Let me say this - in the email from the White House this morning in announcing this announcement, President Obama pointedly said we've reached out to every member of the Senate who each have a responsibility to do their job and take this nomination just as seriously as, presumably, he is. What about that?

TOTENBERG: Well, they've tried to, but they will, you know, the Republicans had said within minutes of the death of Justice Scalia, whose death has created this vacancy - within minutes, the Senate majority leader - Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that there would be no hearing. And then, days later, he said we don't even want to meet the nominee.

You can be sure that the White House will do everything in its power to make this embarrassing for Republicans. All the polling shows it's a very bad deal for the GOP. This is not - the optics of this were not good. Let's put it that way. And the public disapproves, by large margins, of this. But at the same time, you can understand by Mitch McConnell did it - because if you have a hearing and the hearing goes well, well, then, there's a great impetus to have a vote. And then they could be in trouble because some people - on the Republican side, there have been very few Republican votes for any Obama Supreme Court nominee. I think the high was nine for Sotomayor. And I think it was five, maybe, for Justice Kagan. So there have been very few, but all they need is a few.

MONTAGNE: And...

TOTENBERG: And...

MONTAGNE: Go ahead.

TOTENBERG: So that's where we would be.

MONTAGNE: You know, just - we have 30 seconds here. But just, Nina, why would any nominee want to go through this - what's shaping up to be such a grueling experience?

TOTENBERG: On the theory that they would get confirmed after the election or potentially be re-nominated by the next president if the president were a Democrat.

MONTAGNE: So, in theory, then, it could work out (laughter).

TOTENBERG: It could work out quite well.

MONTAGNE: OK. All right.

TOTENBERG: On the other hand, they could get their character assassinated - not fun.

MONTAGNE: All right. We're going to find out later who the nominee is. Later this morning, we will be covering that. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, thank you very much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.