, WASHINGTON, May 9 – President Barack Obama is on the cusp of naming his second US Supreme Court nominee, and the pick could heighten a week of political drama on issues central to his political prospects and legacy.
Nominating a Supreme Court justice allows a US leader to shape politics and American life for decades after he leaves office, and the White House says that Obama could unveil his nominee at "any moment."
The president is making his final deliberations on the court as he faces a week focused on issues likely to have a heavy bearing on his first term, his hopes of reelection in 2012 and ultimately how history views his presidency.
The White House will launch its most concerted effort yet to focus the US public on what it sees as "slow but steady" progress in the Afghan war.
Obama will also likely be further dragged into the European debt crisis, which is threatening global contagion, and in a worse case scenario could even dampen the US recovery and jobs growth on which his political hopes rest.
The administration is also deeply engaged in two crisis-management situations — the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the aftermath of the failed car bombing last week in New York\’s Time Square.
Under a White House news blackout, Obama has interviewed at least four possible contenders for the Supreme Court post, to replace retiring 90-year-old liberal stalwart, Justice John Paul Stevens.
Several reports cite officials convinced the president will chose Elena Kagan, a high flying lawyer who currently argues the administration\’s case before the court, as US Solicitor General.
Kagan may have an advantage as a possible nominee as she is only 50 and has the potential of spending decades serving as a reliable liberal on a court currently weighted towards conservatives.
Another female judge, Diane Wood, 59, from Obama\’s adopted hometown of Chicago is also favored by some Supreme Court kremlinologists.
Should Obama decide to pick a woman, he would make a small piece of history, as three of the court\’s nine justices would for the first time be female. Already on the bench are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was nominated by Bill Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor, Obama\’s first Supreme Court pick last year.
Two other judges, Merrick Garland, 57 an appeals court judge in Washington DC and Sidney Thomas, 56, who serves a similar role in San Francisco, have also been mentioned as being on Obama\’s short list.
Obama\’s choice will not solely be based on legal calcuations: he may decide to chose someone seen as a moderate to avoid a pitched confirmation battle with Republicans in the run-up to mid-term congressional elections in November.
Alternatively, with Democrats expecting heavy losses in the polls, this court pick may be the last chance the president gets to place a strong liberal on the court, before his party\’s Senate majority is cut or overturned.
Obama\’s court pick will jostle for attention this week with another issue likely to be on the top of the lists of historians when they come to judge his presidency: Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will spend four days in Washington, as US officials hope to overcome a testy period of public spats with an ally they don\’t truely trust, to push for greater anti-corruption measures.
On Monday, top Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal and US ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry will hold a rare White House briefing in an attempt to retain support for Obama\’s troop surge strategy.
The president will host Karzai in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Obama\’s gamble last year on pitching more soldiers into the grinding conflict with the Taliban will have a heavy impact on his presidency.
On Thursday, the president will travel to Buffalo, New York to talk about his efforts to lock in the recovery after the worst economic meltdown since the 1930s Great Depression.
But the specter of a return to crisis will likely force its way onto his packed agenda before then: with US and global financial markets in turmoil over fears the Greek debt crisis could spread like wildfire through Europe.
Obama consulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday as European finance and political chiefs seek to contain the contagion.
Americans are again seing their barely recovered market-linked pension funds traumatized after a wild week on Wall Street and the White House has pledged to protect investors and stop the trauma slowing the recovery in its tracks.