WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama interviewed federal judge Diane Wood of Chicago on Tuesday for an opening on the Supreme Court, the fourth candidate known to have had face-to-face talks with the president, a person familiar with the conversation told The Associated Press.
Wood met with Obama in the Oval Office and also interviewed separately with Vice President Joe Biden. The source familiar with those sessions spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of Obama’s deliberations.
The president appears to be homing in on a decision. He has done sit-down interviews in recent days with at least three other finalists: Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appeals court judges Merrick Garland, who serves in the District of Columbia, and Sidney Thomas, who is based in Montana.
Tuesday also marked 25 days since Justice John Paul Stevens announced his plans to retire from the court this summer. By comparison, that is exactly the period of time Obama took last year in evaluating candidates before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter, who also retired.
Wood has been considered a front-runner all along. She interviewed with Obama for last year’s court opening and was said to have impressed the president. He ultimately chose Sotomayor, making her the first Hispanic to serve on the high court upon her confirmation by the Senate.
As for this time, Obama’s announcement of a nominee is expected any day.
His choice is expected to leave intact the ideological balance of the court — four conservatives, four liberals and one swing vote. Stevens leads the liberal bloc.
Obama has been considering a broader list of candidates. Among the others are federal appeals court judge Ann Williams, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow.
It is not known whether any of them have also met personally with the president.
The White House had no comment about the president’s interviews.
Wood is a former law school colleague of the president’s and knows him well.
She joined the University of Chicago law faculty in 1981, served as associate dean from 1989 through 1992 and still lectures there. Obama, who is from Chicago, taught constitutional law at the same law school and overlapped with Wood.
Wood, 59, has served on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since her 1995 nomination by President Bill Clinton and smooth confirmation.
She is known for sparring well and being a persuasive force with conservative jurists, which could be a huge selling point for the president. Obama is eager to choose someone he thinks will not just interpret the law fairly but also help in forming a winning majority on a court that is often split down the middle.
Wood also offers the diversity of experience that Obama likes. She has been a Justice Department official, a lawyer in private practice, a teacher and a judge.
Yet, she has also drawn fire from conservatives for rulings that put her on the side of abortion-rights activists, which could be a factor in her confirmation hearings. She once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who in 1973 wrote the decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States.