President Barack Obama has a chance to break with recent tradition if he heeds the advice of some fellow Democrats urging him to look beyond judges in his pick of a candidate for the Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and former President Bill Clinton are among Democrats who see benefits in selecting someone with political or policy experience.
In recent decades, U.S. presidents have tended to turn to judges to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, although historically plenty of politicians have been tapped for the court.
"It's important for an administration to look beyond judges for names, particularly given the experience that legislators and governors and attorneys general can bring to the decision-making process," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal group Alliance for Justice.
Obama is considering a list of about 10 candidates, including politicians, judges and a former Harvard University law school dean. He has said he hopes to find a candidate who will understand the struggles of ordinary Americans.
Aron said she shares that goal and said some politicians might be able to bring valuable "real world experience," although others could bring that experience as well.
Leahy, who has suggested that Obama broaden his search beyond the "judicial monastery," is among several top lawmakers who on Wednesday will visit Obama at the White House about a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
The meeting, which will include both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT.
Stevens, who turned 90 on Tuesday, is a leading liberal on the court. Obama said he wants to replace him with a candidate of intellectual heft and consensus-building skills who could be persuasive on a court with a 5-4 conservative majority.
Whomever he selects must be approved by the Senate.
Obama, who is expected to announce his decision in early to mid-May, is looking closely at U.S. solicitor general Elena Kagan and federal appeals court judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland.
Among the potential candidates who would bring political experience are Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona.
Although Kagan is not a judge, she is a former dean of Harvard University law school. Her current job is to argue the government's cases before the Supreme Court.
A POLITICAL BATTLEGROUND
The Supreme Court's role in decisions on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gun ownership rights has made the nomination process a political battleground in recent decades.
Analysts say the fight over Obama's court pick may be more intense in a congressional election year than it was last year when Obama tapped Sonia Sotomayor to become the court's first Hispanic justice.
The controversy surrounding the Supreme Court selection process is one reason many recent presidents have looked toward candidates steeped in judicial experience as safe choices.
Earl Warren, a former California governor who later become chief justice of the high court, is among several politicians who have served on the court.
Warren is revered by liberals for writing several landmark decisions, including the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that banned racial segregation in public schools.
William Howard Taft, who was chief justice during the 1920s and '30s, is the only former president to have served on the court.
Sandra Day O'Connor, who served on the court from 1981 to 2006, is the most recent example of a justice with substantial political experience; she had been an Arizona state senator.
Lisa Kern Griffin, a law professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said O'Connor "exemplifies someone who was in touch with the impact of the court's decisions" on ordinary Americans and was "sensitive to its role in democracy."
But Griffin said that does not mean a political career is a prerequisite for that kind of experience.
"Justice Stevens himself, who is well known for his plain speaking, his moral clarity and his common sense, is someone who came from an elite federal appellate court," she said. "I don't think that there is any formula."
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