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From 40 To 9 To 1: The Selection Of Sonia Sotomayor

5039517It was at 8 o'clock last evening, at the end of a day that included four hours of golf, that President Obama finalized his decision: he would nominate Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

He picked up the phone and called the federal appeals court judge to tell her the news. He also called the other three finalists on his short list: Solicitor-General nominee Elena Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood.

Briefing reporters on the selection process, senior administration officials say President Obama could have comfortably nominated any one of the four finalists.

"They were all stellar candidates," said the officials. And the runners up always have the next vacancy on the high court to aim for.

President Obama met personally last week with each of the final four. He spent an hour in the Oval Office last Thursday with Sotomayor. That was the day the news media was otherwise occupied with the dueling Gitmo speeches by Mr. Obama and former Vice President Cheney.

In fact, officials say Sotomayor spent seven hours at the White House that day being vetted on her record, her taxes, and her life story.

"I don't think there's been any stone left unturned," said one senior official about the thoroughness of the background check.

Her taxes? No problem, they said. Her diabetes? "We feel she's in good health and will serve for many years to come," said an official.

They called it a "very rigorous process," but on some issues, the examiners steered clear. They didn't ask her about the controversial case in which she ruled against some white New Haven firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination. The matter is on appeal to the Supreme Court and may come back before her.

And on the issue of abortion, the officials said Sotomayor was not asked her legal opinions of that procedure or the related right to privacy.

The White House says it started the selection process by examining the records and writings of 40 prospective nominees but made direct contact with only nine of them.

The officials portrayed Mr. Obama's outreach as unprecedented, saying he consulted with each and every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the selection process.

Now that process shifts to getting the nominee confirmed by the Senate before the August congressional recess.

Counsel to the Vice President Cynthia Hogan will serve as point-person for that effort. The senior officials rejected the idea of setting up a "war room" to oversee the process, saying they don't anticipate a war over Sotomayor.

She's been through Senate confirmation twice before, and the White House expects smooth sailing the third time around.


(CBS)
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.


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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.