President Obama's process to select Solicitor General Elena Kagan began the day after outgoing justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, according to a White House official. Administration staffers, led by chief counsel Bob Bauer, assembled records on "a broad array" of candidates, all presented to the president for review during his several trips around the country in April.
NEWSWEEK learned last month that waiting to announce a selection until early May was strategic, in part to minimize the public exposure of the nominee and also to mirror the last year's time line of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who underwent questioning on the Hill in the middle of the summer.
As Obama narrowed his list, he focused on four candidates: Kagan, D.C. Circuit justice Merrick Garland, Ninth Circuit justice Sidney Thomas, and Seventh Circuit justice Diane Wood. Obama also considered Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow but didn't meet her personally, leaving Kagan as the only non-judge on the shortlist. He interviewed Garland first on April 16, followed by Thomas on April 29, Kagan on April 30, and Wood on May 4. According to the White House, Vice President Joe Biden also met with all four candidates separately and consulted directly with Obama during their weekly lunches before a final decision was made over the weekend.
Although Kagan remained a leading contender during much of the selection process, White House staff was "not 100 percent" that Obama would choose her until the very end. As late as Sunday afternoon, senior officials were working on rollout scenarios for multiple candidates.
But Obama ended the guessing game on Sunday evening at 8, when he called Kagan to inform her she would be the nominee. Not long after, he called the other top candidates to inform them they'd be keeping their current jobs.