WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Saturday he feels no pressure to select a woman as his first Supreme Court nominee but that over time, his high court picks would reflect the diversity of the United States.
With Obama's choice to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice David Souter coming soon, there has been growing speculation that the president will likely choose a woman.
But in an interview with C-Span, Obama said his wife Michelle and other women had urged him to "chose the person you think is going to be best."
"I think in any given pick, my job is to just find somebody who I think is going to make a difference on the courts and look after the interest of the American people," he said.
"And so, I don't feel weighed down by having to choose a Supreme Court Justice based on demographics," he said.
Instead, Obama, who once taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, reiterated his belief that the ideal candidate would not only know the law and have a formidable intellect but also be in touch with the lives of ordinary people.
"In all these cases, what I want is not just ivory tower learning," he said. "I want somebody who has the intellectual fire power, but also a little bit of a common touch and has a practical sense of how the world works."
As an example, he recalled the case of Lilly Ledbetter who filed suit against Goodyear Tire demanding equal pay after discovering she had been paid less than her male colleagues for 20 years.
The Supreme Court rejected the suit in 2007 on grounds that the 180-day statute of limitations ran from the date her pay was agreed upon.
Obama said he disagreed with the ruling. "I think anybody who has ever worked in a job like that understands that they might not know that they were being discriminated against it. It doesn't make sense for their rights to be foreclosed," he said.
"That's the kind of case, where I want a judge not only to be applying the law in front of them, but also to understand that as a practical matter a lot of times people have weak bargaining power," he said.
Asked what justices past or present he would look to as a role model, Obama said Sandra Day O'Connor always conveyed the sense that she was interested in the practical application of a law.
"She wasn't a grand theoretician, but she ended up having an enormous influence on the law as a whole," he said.
He cited Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall for recognizing "the unique role that courts could play in breaking the political logjam that had locked out too many people in the political process."
"And so, different times call for different justices, each justice has their own strengths as well as weaknesses," he said.
"And what I just want to make sure of is that any justices I appoint are people who have not only the academic qualifications or intellectual capacity, but also the heart and the feel for how Americans are struggling in their day-to-day lives.
Obama said he would announce his decision soon and hoped Senate confirmation hearings to be held in July before the Senate recesses for the summer.
"One of the things I would prefer not to see happen is that these confirmation hearings drag on and somebody has to hit the ground running and then take their seat in October without having the time to wrap their mind around the fact that they are going to be a Supreme Court Justice," he said.
Copyright 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.