Veteran Supreme Court observer Tom Goldstein has his picks for who a Democratic President might pick for his or her first open SCOTUS seat. They are:
Hon. Johnnie Rawlinson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Georgia Supreme Court
Hon. Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Hon. Kim McLane Wardlaw, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
All four are, of course, extremely qualified. In terms of demographics, Judge Rawlinson and Justice Sears are African-American, while Judges Sotomayor and Wardlaw are both Hispanic. All four judges are women.
Without knowing anything about their decisions, relative politics, or any number of other pertinent information (in other words, going solely off bios), Judge Sotomayor seems to have the clearest path to confirmation. She's been serving in the judiciary as long or longer than any of the other three candidates, being appointed in 1992 (Justice Sears was also appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1992). She has the advantage of being originally appointed to her district court seat by President Bush, before being elevated to the 2nd Circuit by President Clinton in 1997. Her credentials are the most overtly elite (Princeton/Yale), compared to North Carolina A&T/Pacific (Rawlinson), Cornell/Emory (Sears), and UCLA/UCLA (Wardlaw). Finally, she gets an advantage over Rawlinson and Wardlaw in that she doesn't hail from the 9th circuit, which, regardless of these judges' particular decisions, will inevitably tar them with the dread label, "activist." (For what its worth, Goldstein, who is far more informed than I, gives Wardlaw the inside track).
But regardless, it is quite pleasant to see a number of well-qualified minority women who could make it to the bench of America's highest Court under a Democratic administration. The "small pool" argument takes another dagger. I think that America's political institutions have at least some obligation (not a paramount obligation, but some obligation) to "look like the nation." Others lecture that pure academic, experiential, or intellectual qualification should be all that matters. Happily, we are now in a situation where both of our desires can be reconciled, as there are several excellent candidates for the Supreme Court who could make everybody happy.
Goldstein also created an expanded list of 30 potential nominees (PDF), which is worth taking a look at. Of the 30, 24 of them are either women or racial minorities. Seven (including Goldstein's first four) are both women and minorities. The three names in that category who did make Goldstein's final roster of first seat candidates were Vicki Miles-LaGrange (Federal Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma 1994-present, University of Ghana/Vassar/Howard), Patricia Timmons-Goodson (North Carolina Supreme Court 2006-present, UNC/UNC), and Martha Vasquez (Federal Judge for the District of New Mexico 1993-present, Notre Dame/Notre Dame).
Other names of note on the list include Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, Yale Law Dean Harold Honju Koh, former Stanford Law Dean Kathleen Sullivan, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, US Senators Ken Salazar and Barack Obama (though the latter, Goldstein concedes, might be otherwise occupied from 2008-2012), and former Solicitor General Seth Waxman. Gender-wise, the list is composed of 18 men and 12 women; race wise it includes 11 Whites, 6 Hispanics, 12 African-Americans, and 1 Asian-American.
I can't wait until 2008