President Obama hasn’t chosen a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter yet, but civil rights and women’s equality advocates are speaking out to insure that a pro-choice, pro-equality justice is seated on the high court.

In an unusual gesture, Obama broke the news during a briefing at the White House just hours after Souter telephoned the president to inform him of his plan to retire in June. Souter was a consistent member of the liberal wing of the court, so Obama’s choice will not likely tip the balance of the sharply divided nine-member court in which many cases are decided by a 5 to 4 split.

Obama said he will name a replacement “with a sharp, independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity … somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values.” He told reporters, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what its like to be poor or African American, or gay, or disabled or old.”

These words sent the Republican right into a frenzy with right-wing bloggers predicting Obama will name a “radical leftist” or “socialist.” Right-wing talking-head Charles Krauthammer pompously intoned on Fox News that Obama’s guideline is “not only wrong but deeply corrupting.”

But People For the American Way President Michael Keegan welcomed Obama’s comments, urging the president to “nominate a justice who will defend the rights of individual Americans against powerful government and business interests.”

The National Organization for Women launched an online petition urging the president to “name a woman like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a proven advocate for equality and fair treatment under the Constitution.” NOW pointed out that Justice Ginsburg herself has asked “what people think when they visit the Court and see only one woman out of nine justices.”

“There I am all alone, and it doesn’t look right,” said Ginsburg, noting that women bring a life experience that men can’t.

Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said the Supreme Court has tilted “in a direction hostile to a woman’s right to choose” since George W. Bush’s nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were seated.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is regarded as the “swing” vote, yet he has sided with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Alito in recent cases in which the Supreme Court chipped away at Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that upholds women’s abortion rights.

Keenan added, “These changes in the Court’s composition further underscore why … it will be critical for President Obama to nominate — and for the Senate to confirm — a successor who will uphold American liberties like those set forth in Roe v. Wade.”

She warned that enemies of women’s reproductive rights have already amassed a war chest of over $1 million to block a pro-choice nominee. “America’s pro-choice majority will fight back,” she said.

Reps. Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), co-chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wrote a letter to Obama urging him to name a Latino to the Supreme Court. “Though we make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, less than 4 percent of federal judges are of Hispanic descent and not one has served on the nation’s highest court,” they wrote.

Among those mentioned as possible nominees is Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. She is Puerto Rican.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters Obama should reach beyond the judiciary for a nominee. “I would like to see more people from outside the judicial monastery, somebody who has had some real-life experience, not just as a judge,” said Leahy, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think we should have more women. We should have more minorities,” he said.

A host of urgent and contentious issues loom. Challenges against Bush-Cheney torture could reach the Supreme Court. There are likely to be death penalty appeals. And there will be cases relating to worker and union organizing rights and discrimination against women and minorities similar to the infamous Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire ruling in which the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court overturned laws aimed at guaranteeing equal pay for women. Congress reversed that ruling with new legislation signed by Obama within days of his inauguration.

Pending before the Supreme Court now is an attempt by a utility district in Texas to overthrow Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring pre-clearance of any change in election regulations in jurisdictions with a history of racist discrimination.

Obama said he wants the Senate to confirm his nominee in time for the next Supreme Court term in October.

greenerpastures21212 @