President Barack Obama says he intends to forge ahead and name a replacement for deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s position, despite threats from Republicans to block anybody he tries to nominate. He’ll have no lack of options to choose from.
While many publications have listed nominees Obama may be considering, few have explicitly evaluated the respective pluses and minuses of Obama’s various choices when compared to one another. Sure, Sri Srinivasan is seen as a frontrunner, but why? Should he be?
The Daily Caller News Foundation digs in by evaluating nine different prospective nominees who are frequently listed as potential picks:
1. Sri Srinivasan, judge on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
Pros: As an Indian immigrant and a Hindu, Srinivasan would fill a new diversity checkbox for the Court. He has a moderate reputation, having clerked for two Republican judges and worked for the Department of Justice during former President George W. Bush’s administration. He was confirmed 97-0 when nominated to be a circuit court judge, meaning dozens of GOP senators would have to explain why they view him so differently after just three years. Extremely well-qualified by objective measures, with an elite academic pedigree, a stint teaching at Harvard Law School, and substantial time spent in private practice, the executive branch and on the bench. Generally seen as moderate.
Cons: While Srinivasan has diversity appeal, Indian-Americans aren’t a large voting bloc, so the potential electoral advantages that could accrue from Srinivasan being blocked are probably not as great as for other candidates. While his moderate reputation means he may have a better shot at confirmation, it also means he’s less likely to fire up liberal voters if his nomination is blocked. Some may even be outright unhappy that Obama is “wasting” his pick on such a moderate option. Before becoming a judge, Srinivasan was a corporate litigator who represented Exxon and former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, among others, giving Republicans a potentially powerful line of attack.
2. Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, associate justice of the California Supreme Court
Pros: The Daily Beast has suggested that a Cuéllar nomination would be the GOP’s “worst nightmare” for the Court showdown, and there are several reasons to think they may be correct. Cuéllar is a Mexican immigrant (and would be the first Mexican on the Court), in an election that has revolved heavily around the topic of immigration thanks to the ascendancy of Donald Trump. Democrats could easily exploit a stalled nomination to portray the GOP as hostile to letting a talented Hispanic onto the Court, and use it to rally Hispanic voters in November’s presidential election by portraying the election as a referendum on the Court. Cuéllar was unanimously confirmed to California’s Supreme Court, helping Obama if he hopes to position Cuéllar as a mainstream candidate the GOP is opposing out of sheer obstructionism.
Cuéllar is also a scant 43 years old, meaning he could be a fixture of the Court for an extremely long time if confirmed.
Cons: Any electoral advantage gained by Cuéllar could be mostly or entirely offset if Trump fades away and Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz land the GOP nomination instead. Due to his exceptional youth and the fact he has only been on the California Supreme Court for a year, the GOP could credibly argue he is too inexperienced to ascend so quickly to country’s top court.
3. Paul Watford, judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Pros: Watford is black, and similar to Cuéllar, his nomination could potentially help to marginally boost turnout in a group Democrats are relying on to keep the White House. Enthusing black voters is particularly important for the party now that Obama isn’t on the ballot. Back when he was nominated to the Ninth Circuit, several conservative legal figures described him as a moderate, which could could improve his chances of actually getting on the Court if Obama intends for his nominee to do that.
Cons: Unlike Srinivasan and some other candidates, Watford’s path to the Court of Appeals was somewhat contentious and he was only confirmed 61-34 by a Democrat-controlled Senate, so Republicans will have a much easier time justifying opposition to him. As an attorney, Watford assisted in cases attacking the death penalty and a tough Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, which will give the GOP plenty of ideological ammunition to throw at him despite his “moderate” label.
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