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May 1st, 2009
11:45 PM ET

“Way cool” in the briefing room

Jill Dougherty
CNN International Affairs Correspondent

At his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was doing what some reporters call “tap dancing,” trying to avoid saying much about Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s decision to retire. The reason? The White House was waiting for a formal letter from Justice Souter notifying the President of his decision. CNN had cameras stationed on the White House front lawn, waiting to capture the moment when a marshall from the Supreme Court would arrive in a Lincoln Town Car would arrive, letter in hand.

All of a sudden, through the door into the briefing room, walks the president. Reporters jump to their feet. Cameras pivot.

“This is kind of cool, Robert,” Mr. Obama says with a big grin. Gibbs quips: “It is way cooler than it seems.”

“Absolutely,” the president says. “The reason I’m interrupting Robert is not because he’s not doing a good job. He is doing an unbelievable job. But it’s because I just got off the telephone with Justice Souter.”

The president praises Souter. “Fair minded…independent…no particular ideology.”

What will he look for in a nominee to replace Justice Souter? “Someone with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity.”

So far, it’s what you expect a president to say. But this president taught constitutional law for ten years. “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook,” he say. “It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families.”

So far, we’re hearing a liberal: “…I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

Now comes the “conservative” side of president Obama: “I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions. Who respects the integrity of the judicial process, and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.”

Mr. Obama promises to consult with members of both parties, “across the political spectrum.” But conservatives already are attacking some possible Obama nominees as "disturbingly out of the mainstream.”

The briefing room “interruption” is over. The president says he hopes he can swear in the new Supreme Court justice by the first Monday in October when the new term begins.

“I would like you to give Robert a tough time again,” he laughs...and strolls out of the briefing room.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Terry, TX

    I agree with "Annie Kate"....but it won't be ....it will be based on race and gender and ideology....the last thing it will be ....applying and interpreting the Constitution and protect those equally under the law....we are not doing it now...special interest groups get the special protection.

    May 4, 2009 at 8:53 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    I hope Obama picks someone as strongly for the constitution and preserving its intent as Souter was. One of our greatest strengths as a country lies in having the Constitution as our defining document and roadmap for our government. Safeguarding the intent of the original document should be the primary job requisite of anyone considered for a position as one of our nation's Supremes.

    May 1, 2009 at 8:09 pm |