Emboldened by success the first time around, President Barack Obama is likely to pick the Supreme Court nominee he wants and let the confirmation fight proceed from there, putting huge emphasis on a justice who would bring a fight-for-the-little-guy sensibility to the job.
Politics will certainly play into Obama's calculus: He no longer has the votes in the Senate to overcome the delaying tactic known as the filibuster, and a minority Republican Party in fierce opposition to Obama's agenda has little incentive to hand him a win just months before House and Senate elections.
But Obama's strategy worked when he chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter last year — announce the criteria he deems the most vital for a nominee, vet the nominees with no embarrassing gaffes or leaks, and pick the one with whom he feels the most comfort.
Confirmability was a factor then, not a driver. Expect much the same now.
Not even one year later, Obama must replace the liberal lion of the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, who on Friday announced his coming retirement.
In choosing a nominee over the next few weeks, Obama is inclined to stick with his formula of going all in, like he did in getting a health care reform law done, the biggest and most consuming fight of his presidency. The view from the White House is that the president is almost certain to face a political and ideological fight in this election year no matter who he nominates to the court; the only issue is to what degree.
So why scale back?
Sotomayor's confirmation itself was, for the most part, a hardened partisan fight. The vote was 68-31, with Democrats unanimously behind her and most Republicans opposing her choice and Obama's judicial standards. Yet not lost in all that was that nine Republicans voted to confirm Sotomayor.
Among them was conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He offered sharp questioning during confirmation hearings and found some of Sotomayor's views troubling, but ultimately considered her well qualified and, importantly, showed deference to Obama's prerogative by saying "elections matter."
Obama hopes to get at least one such Republican supporter this time — and in purely practical terms, one is all he needs. Democrats and their allied independents hold 59 seats in the Senate, one short of the 60 needed to overcome a vote-killing delay maneuver.
Confirmation itself would require 51 votes. And while senators take their "advise and consent" role seriously and members of the president's own party do not like their votes taken for granted, Obama clearly enters the process in a strong position, unless surprising questions emerge about his nominee's record or behavior.
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