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In Replacing Souter, Obama May Turn to Court Outsider

With Justice David Souter set to retire in June after more than 18 years on the bench, President Barack Obama is being given his first chance to shape the nation's highest court. Analysts discuss what traits and experience President Obama will be looking for as he looks to nominate a successor.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next tonight, what should President Obama look for in his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter?

    Here to discuss that: Christine Harrington, professor of politics at New York University; and David Yalof, professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, author of "Pursuit of Justice: Presidential Politics and the Selection of Supreme Court Nominees."

    Professor Harrington, first, for the record, there are no official qualifications for Supreme Court justices, am I correct?

  • CHRISTINE HARRINGTON, New York University:

    Yes, the Constitution doesn't stipulate any conditions to be on the court, other than being nominated by the president and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But as a matter of record — and particularly right now, of course — they're all lawyers, right?

  • CHRISTINE HARRINGTON:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Have they always been lawyers?

  • CHRISTINE HARRINGTON:

    Yes, they have always been lawyers, of course, not always law professors or federal judges. And that's where the trends in who presidents pick start to break out.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Professor Yalof, in the current court, the trend is already arrived, has it not, in terms of federal appeals court judges?

    DAVID YALOF, University of Connecticut: Yes, scholars talk about a norm of judicial experience. It's almost a norm of federal judicial experience. Once Justice Souter leaves the court, you're left not only with almost all entirely people who have had federal judicial experience, but you've lost the one judge who had significant state judge experience in Justice Souter.