Diverse pool of candidates

The news: President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she will be the court’s first Latina and third woman.

Behind the news: Out of the list of 16 probable Supreme Court nominees mentioned by The New York Times and Associated Press prior to Sotomayor’s nomination, 13 candidates were women or minorities. Seven of them were white women, while both minority men and minority women made up three candidates apiece.

Throughout the court’s 220-year history, no fewer than six white male justices have ever served on the bench at any given time. Currently, seven justices are white males, while one white woman, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and one black man, Clarence Thomas, round out the roster.

Lee Epstein, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law, said the latest pool of candidates reflects increased diversity in the lower courts and the legal academies.

But the fact that the justices and Sotomayor share similar professional and geographic backgrounds doesn’t chip away at the court’s perceived homogeneity, she cautioned. Each comes to the court from the U.S. Court of Appeals, with all but two–”John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy–”having served as appeals court judges in either Washington, D.C., or the Northeast.

“There are a lot of interest groups out there who all want a candidate who reflects their thinking or looks like them,” Epstein said. “So there are a lot of boxes to check.”

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