WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – It’s become a daily ritual in the White House press briefing room. Reporters inquire about Supreme Court nominee rumors, then press secretary Josh Earnest winks them away with an in-on-the-joke smirk.
In a briefing this week, one reporter tried three lures to fish a name out of Earnest.
REPORTER: Do you know Judge Jane Kelly?
EARNEST: I’ve read some public reports about her, but I have not met her in person.
REPORTER: Have you seen her here, by chance?
EARNEST: Haha, that’s clever.
REPORTER: Have you seen anyone that you can think of who could be a candidate for the Supreme Court – a potential nominee – inside this building?
EARNEST: Even if I had, I don’t think I’d say so from here.
Three weeks after Justice Anontin Scalia’s death, intrigue regarding his Supreme Court replacement is reaching new heights.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested a nominee could be named within a week. Other insiders predict two or three weeks.
The sum total of verified facts is slim. President Obama is considering his options and Senate Republicans have already rejected them — all of them.
It’s the type of soapy, yet serious, story the Washington press corps gobbles up: a sudden SCOTUS vacancy, turf war, high-stakes sit downs, and election year burn-it-all-down soundbites.
The New York Times has kept a minute-by-minute tally of “maybes,” including the scoop on Saturday of the White House actively vetting Judges Merrick B. Garland, Jacqueline Nguyen and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The newspaper noted that “Mr. Obama’s team sent a handful of names to the F.B.I. last week for background checks that are expected to take 10 to 14 days…”
Despite the addition of several last-minute possibilities, the short list of likely nominees has remained fairly consistent at the top, including the names of four people with strategic positives and minimal negatives.
Jane Kelly, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
Reporters have been working overtime to verify a New York Times report that Judge Jane Kelly, widely considered a moderate, is currently being vetted by the White House.
The federal appeals court judge isn’t talking, and the White House seemed to silently enjoy the storm of speculation.
Kelly, of Iowa, was unanimously confirmed to the bench in 2013, thanks in part to the vigorous support of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a top-ranking senior member of her home state’s congressional delegation.
She now sits on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals which covers much of middle America, including: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Grassley finds himself in the precarious position of chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee, which affords him the ability to hold SCOTUS nominee hearings, if he so chooses.
As he wages a reelection bid, Grassley could find it difficult to stick with his party and deny a popular Iowa jurist the opportunity to be considered for a seat on the high court.
Sri Srinivasan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The District of Columbia’s federal appellate court is the nation’s most powerful and prestigious judicial body, save the Supreme Court.
Srinivasan’s name has been floated as a possible SCOTUS nominee since before Scalia’s death.
He was easily confirmed to the appellate court in 2013, has written moderate opinions, and would be the first Indian-American to serve as a justice.
For many in the nation’s capital, Srinivasan remains a top pick, but Mr. Obama may not want to expose the promising candidate to a loss in 2016, instead reserving him for a less contentious nomination by a future Democratic president.
Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General
Attorney General Loretta Lynch would make history as the first black female justice in the high court’s long history.
There is no questioning Lynch’s bona fides – with a Harvard Law degree and successful tenure as a U.S. attorney in New York. The problem for Lynch, who hasn’t shown herself to be as politically charged as her predecessor Eric Holden, is her office’s proximity to that of Mr. Obama.
Senators delayed Lynch’s confirmation for several months, making the crystal clear point that they viewed many of the president’s actions as unlawful — something the attorney general is responsible for policing as the nation’s top law enforcer. The upside to a Lynch nomination is that she appears to be satisfied with her current position and would not suffer from a failed SCOTUS bid.
Furthermore, Democrats could rally their 2016 voter base by highlighting the story of a mostly-white conservative Senate obstructing the nomination of a perfectly qualified African-American woman.
Patricia Ann Millett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Only two Senate Republicans voted in favor of Patricia Millett when she was ultimately confirmed to the D.C. Circuit bench in 2013 following an ugly political battle.
Her name has been floated as a possible Scalia replacement, but consistently ranks lower than other short-listers.
As a veteran of the solicitor general’s office and experienced SCOTUS litigator who’s argued 32 cases before the court, Millett’s judicial chops draw a high level of respect in Washington.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales