Many have speculated that President Obama will be looking for a minority or female to replace the outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter. A top candidate is Sonia Sotomayor, a Hispanic judge from New York.
Obama didn't provide any new clues to his nomination plans with his statement during a surprise visit to the White House briefing room on Friday:
"I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book," Obama said. "It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation."
Obama has made similar remarks about the need for justices to understand "real life" in the past. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press last October, Obama said that Justices Souter and Stephen Breyer exemplified that kind of worldview.
"I think that Justice Souter, who was a Republican appointee, Justice Breyer, a Democratic appointee, are very sensible judges," Obama said. "They take a look at the facts and they try to figure out: How does the Constitution apply to these facts? They believe in fidelity to the text of the Constitution, but they also think you have to look at what is going on around you and not just ignore real life."
Obama added that he'd want a justice who "recognizes that one of the roles of the courts is to protect people who don't have a voice. That's the special role of that institution. The vulnerable, the minority, the outcast, the person with the unpopular idea, the journalist who is shaking things up. That's inherently the role of the court. And if somebody doesn't appreciate that role, then I don't think they are going to make a very good justice."
Around the time of the confirmation hearings of Justice John Roberts, which happened in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005, Obama said he'd want a justice who was responsive to the kinds of problems revealed in the hurricane's aftermath.
"I think that Katrina does indicate that we've got a lot of problems in our midst both in terms of poverty, in terms of the differences in life opportunities for blacks, whites, Hispanics, and that that has to inform how we think about every branch of government and their functions, and I think that the Supreme Court is no different," Obama said on ABC's This Week in September 2005. Obama voted against Roberts' confirmation.
Obama also voted to filibuster the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006.
Explaining his position inan interview with Time magazine, Obama said that filibustering is an unsustainable if unavoidable political tactic and that Democrats ought to just win elections so they don't have to do it.
"What I specifically said was, I will be supporting the filibuster, but I think we have to recognize that if we aren't making the case for our values and winning elections, then procedures inside the Beltway will not save us," Obama said.
Three years later, the Democratic party's electoral prowess is such that not only will they not have to resort to a filibuster, the opposition probably won't even have the choice. (As HuffPost's Sam Stein reports, Republicans have the equivalent of a filibuster in the Judiciary Committee, but Democrats can find a way around that if necessary.)