The political donation histories of Obama’s potential new justices

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When word leaked Thursday night that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire after this court term ends, it took about 30 seconds for every major news outlet and political pundit to put together a list of who President Obama might nominate to replace Souter. Naturally, we were curious as to the political contribution histories of some of the top prospects, so we ran their names through the subscription-only CQMoneyLine donor database to see what came out.

The early buzz has been swirling around Sonia Sotomayor, who would become the first Hispanic-American on the court and would be only the third woman ever to serve on the court. She had no donations recorded under her name.

Another frontrunner is Kim McLane Wardlaw, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She last donated in July 1995, giving $1,000 to President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. The next month, Clinton nominated her as a federal judge. Her other donations are all to Democrats, including $500 to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) in 1994. Bingaman — still a senator — would vote on her confirmation, if she is nominated. Like Sotomayor, Wardlaw would be the first Hispanic-American on the Supreme Court.

Kathleen Sullivan, who was formerly the head of Stanford’s law school, donated the maximum amount of $2,300 to both Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential committees. She also donated to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign ($1,000), Clinton’s first Senate run ($250), and Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) 2008 re-election ($1,000). Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary committee and will play an enormous role in any nomination effort.

Leah Ward Sears, who is the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, has only two political donations to her name — both to President Obama’s election efforts last year totaling $550.

Pamela Karlan, a law professor at Stanford University, has nine contributions, all to Democrats. Interestingly, before donating $1,000 to President Obama’s efforts, she gave $2,000 to primary rival (and now-Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Elena Kagan, President Obama’s Solicitor General, had 15 donations listed under her name, all to Democrats. These include $1,500 to Sen. John Kerry’s 2002 re-election and $1,000 to Al Gore for his presidential campaign. She also maxed out in contributions to Obama’s presidential fund. All these donations came during her tenure at Harvard Law School, where she was both a professor and dean.

Rounding out the top names is Diane P. Wood, who donated $750 to Clinton’s first White House run. She now sits on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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