Roundups Law and Policy

Ten Top Contenders to Replace Justice Scalia in the Supreme Court

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Whom will President Obama name to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia? Here's a list of some possible nominees.

The responses to the news of Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing have now shifted from tributes to his legacy to speculation over who President Obama will nominate to replace him. Rewire has compiled a list of who is likely in the running based on early reports, as well as who we would like to see nominated.

Sri Srinivasan, 48, was among the very first names floated as a possible replacement for Justice Scalia. If nominated and confirmed, Srinivasan would be the first Asian-American person appointed to the bench. Srinivasan was confirmed unanimously as a judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 after a bruising confirmation process. Srinivasan is a former deputy U.S. solicitor general and clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Srinivasan’s record and stance on reproductive rights and justice issues is a bit of a mystery, with little to no public record on it, as is the question of whether Srinivasan is the centrist nominee designed to appease Republicans.

Loretta Lynch, 56, is the current U.S. attorney general and, if nominated and confirmed, would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York with bipartisan support in April 2015. Since taking over as attorney general, Lynch has made tackling police violence a priority, recently authorizing the Department of Justice to file a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Ferguson for a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in its policing.

Paul Watford, 48, is a current judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Nominated and confirmed with broad bipartisan support, Watford is a former assistant U.S. attorney and former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Watford’s name was also among the first to surface as a replacement for Scalia. His history at the liberal Ninth Circuit should give progressives some comfort, but like Srinivasan, Watford’s record on reproductive rights and justice issues is a bit of a mystery.

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Chai Feldblum, 56, is the current commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a longtime equality advocate who has significantly shaped the Obama administration’s embrace of LGBTQ rights. Feldblum played a leading role in helping to draft and negotiate the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Commissioner Feldblum was one of the drafters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and is the first openly lesbian commissioner of the EEOC. As an attorney, Feldblum clerked for Judge Frank Coffin of the First Circuit Court of Appeals and for former Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Nina Pillard, 54, is a current judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and another longtime advocate for equal rights. Republicans vigorously fought Pillard’s appointment and have called her an “extremist,” so we could expect a tough battle for her confirmation. As a professor at Georgetown Law School, Pillard claimed that access to contraception and abortion is an important part of ensuring gender equality, while as an attorney she argued, and won, the critically important cases of United States v. Virginia, which opened the Virginia Military Institute to women, and Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, which successfully defended the Family and Medical Leave Act against claims it was unconstitutional. Her opinion in the Priests for Life contraception challenge makes the clearest case, to this day, for the importance of the birth control benefit and the compelling government interest in advancing equity in health-care access.

Patricia Millett, 52, is also a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and widely considered by legal professionals to be a centrist. Millet is a former judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, an attorney at the Department of Justice, and a seasoned Supreme Court litigator while in private practice. Senate Republicans originally filibustered Millett’s nomination as part of a larger fight for control over the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Millett was eventually confirmed after Senate Democrats reformed the filibuster rules. Like Srinivasan and Watford, Millett would be a relatively safe nominee for confirmation despite early Republican opposition.

Jane Kelly, 51, would be a smart political choice to call Republicans’ bluff on their plans to stall a nominee until a new president is elected given her centrist background, experience litigating in conservative federal jurisdictions, and the fact that she has close ties to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Kelly is a former federal public defender who was appointed and unanimously confirmed to the conservative Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013. Kelly’s background as a public defender is sorely needed in a federal judiciary overwhelmingly represented by former prosecutors.

Deval Patrick, 59, is the former governor of Massachusetts and a perennial Supreme Court short-list candidate. Patrick has close ties to the Obama administration and a solid background on civil rights and constitutional law issues. Patrick served as the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice under President Clinton, where he worked on issues related to racial profiling and police misconduct.

Anita Hill, 59, is a complicated addition to this list. Progressives have circulated a petition to have her nominated. Hill is a current faculty member of Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management and is a leading scholar on gender, race, and the law. Her background and experience make her an imminently qualified choice, though it is not at all clear Hill has any interest in working again with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, against whom she testified in 1991 on the grounds that he had sexually harassed her. Similar to Lynch and Melissa Murray, a Hill confirmation would make her the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Melissa Murray is a professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and an all-around reproductive rights and privacy badass. Murray is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her academic work focuses on the roles that criminal law and family law play in defining the legal boundaries of intimate life, including marriage and its alternatives, the legal regulation of sex and sexuality, and the legal recognition of caregiving. Her name might not be on everyone’s short-list of potential nominees, but it should be.

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