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Profiles of three possible successors to Justice John Paul Stevens

One, Diane Wood, has liberal appeal. The other two, Elena Kagan and Merrick Garland, could attract support across a wider spectrum.

April 10, 2010

Three front-runners to fill the Supreme Court seat to be vacated by retiring John Paul Stevens are distinguished not just by their legal credentials but by qualities designed to appeal to particular political constituencies. One of them, Diane Wood, has strong appeal for liberals. The other two, Elena Kagan and Merrick Garland, could attract support across a wider political spectrum. Here in brief are what makes them likely choices:

Aside from her intellect and academic credentials, Elena Kagan may be best known as the liberal whom many conservatives like. She once received rousing applause at a dinner for the conservative Federalist Society and has been praised by Charles Fried, a Reagan solicitor general.

The New York-born Kagan, 49, came to be known as a consensus builder while dean at Harvard Law School, where she recruited faculty on the left and right. She was picked by Obama, whom she once taught alongside at the University of Chicago, as the nation's first female solicitor general to represent the United States before the Supreme Court.

For the Princeton-Oxford-Harvard Law graduate, her biggest challenge may come from some liberals who want someone more like the firebrand icon for whom Kagan clerked, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Before taking a seat as a U.S. Circuit Court judge in Washington, D.C., in 1997, Merrick Garland was a respected Justice Department official who supervised the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and prosecution of the Unabomber.

As a jurist, the Chicago native and graduate of Harvard Law School is considered a centrist. Soft-spoken yet engaging, the 57-year-old Garland is said to ask lots of questions.

He's no stranger to Washington politics either. Though he had strong bipartisan support when he was nominated to the appellate bench by President Clinton, Garland had to wait more than 11/2 years for Senate confirmation -- prompting then-Sen. Joe Biden to quip of Republicans' delaying tactics: "I smell a rat here."

Wood, 59, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago for 15 years, is a staunch liberal, a quality that could trigger a bruising ideological standoff with conservatives in the Senate.

Wood, who grew up in New Jersey and Texas, served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. She also had clerked at the Supreme Court for Associate Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.

Wood, who has three children, has drawn criticism from the right for an opinion, later reversed, that found that Planned Parenthood could use racketeering-conspiracy law to sue protesters.

She wrote the opinion that upheld the corruption conviction of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan. Wood has continued to lecture part-time at the University of Chicago law school.

-- Staff reports

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