Following a thorough vetting process that drew down the number of potential Supreme Court nominees to four, President Barack Obama ultimately settled on his decision to nominate Sonia Sotomayor at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, senior administration officials said.
In the most detailed briefing to date about the process of filling the forthcoming Court vacancy, two high-ranking White House aides said on Tuesday that the president's decision on who should replace Justice David Souter came down to Solicitor General Elana Kagan, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit judge Diane Wood, and Sotomayor.
The president personally knew the first three, having appointed two to their current posts and worked with Wood in Chicago. He had never met Sotomayor before.
But after the two spent an hour together discussing judicial philosophy in the Oval Office last Thursday, he ultimately settled on the judge from the second district court of appeals. That meeting was part of a seven-hour visit Sotomayor made to the White House -- without, remarkably, being caught by any members of the press corps. The president had expressed an inclination as to his choice on Friday but took the weekend to think about it.
"The President went through a very rigorous process, considered a large number of candidates," said a senior White House aide. "Volumes of material were produced about each of the candidate and ultimately the president met with four of them and met with Judge Sotomayor.... who certainly brought to this a strong orientation of what he was looking for."
In the roughly half-hour briefing describing the nomination process, two administration officials laid out three distinct characteristics that the president had looked for in a judge: "deep experience in the law," someone who "shared his view of the appropriate role of the court and of judging," and "someone who would bring some real life experience to the court."
"When he applied all those three standards," the official concluded, "it was very, very clear to him who that nominee should be."
Included in the vet were Sotomayor's tax records, her court rulings and writings, and even her medical records. As to her Type I diabetes, which has not complicated her work but could have late life implications, the senior aide said:
"There was a full vet and she was very open about it. And her doctors and other doctors were consulted and we feel like she is in good health and will serve for many years to come. I think this was a very, very rigorous vetting process. There couldn't be a more serious appointment then the appointment for someone to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court."
Going forward, the White House will assign Cynthia Hogan, the Vice President Joe Biden's counsel, to help shepherd Sotomayor's confirmation. They also said they expect her home state Senator, Chuck Schumer, to play an active role, along with the vice president himself.
"Few people understand this process better than the vice president," said one official from Biden's office, "so his input would be valued and utilized."
Prior to settling on Sotomayor, the president contacted every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (what the White House aide called historic outreach) as well as various interest groups, including progressive outlets and even the conservative Federalist Society. Since deciding to nominate Sotomayor, Obama has called Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and the ranking Republican member of the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
As for the widely expected Republican opposition, the senior aide noted that Sotomayor had already been confirmed twice by the United States Senate, and urged the GOP to use the same standards that they preached during the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.
"I expect that she will get a fair hearing. And if she gets a fair hearing I think she will fare very well," said the official.
Asked if the White House was contemplating setting up a "war room" to push the nomination through, the aide responded, "I hesitate to use the word war room because we are not anticipating a war."