[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] said Wednesday that he will take into account a potential nominee's position on individual liberty, including women's rights, when nominating a Supreme Court justice. Speaking at a meeting with Senate leaders, Obama acknowledged that abortion [JURIST news archive] has been "a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time" and explained [text] how his approach to choosing a nominee will take reproductive rights into account:
I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction. ... I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights. And that's going to be something that's very important to me, because I think part of what our core ... constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that.
Obama met with Senate leaders from both parties in an effort to pave the way for a smooth confirmation [AP report] for his eventual nominee. The meeting on Wednesday included Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and ranking committee Republican Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official websites]. Obama said that he plans to announce his nomination by the end of May, and hopes to replicate last year's "smooth, civil [and] thoughtful" confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor [JURIST news archive].
Earlier this month, Leahy predicted that President Obama will nominate a replacement for retiring [JURIST reports] Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile; Cornell LII materials] in time for hearings to be concluded over the summer. In a letter [text, PDF] to Obama explaining is retirement, Stevens said that "it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court's next Term." There had been much speculation about Stevens's possible retirement, and leading candidates for his replacement reportedly include Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile] and federal appellate judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood. Stevens, 89, was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford and was seated in December 1975. Stevens is the court's oldest and most senior member and has served as the leader of the court's liberal bloc. His retirement gives Obama his second opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, following last year's retirement of Justice David Souter and confirmation of Sotomayor [JURIST reports].