In The Courts

Wood, Kagan Are on High Court Short List, Again

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Two women are once again making the radar in Supreme Court nomination season. Here's a look at Judge Diane P. Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan and their records--long and short--on the hot-button issue of abortion rights.

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Judge Diane P. Wood(WOMENSNEWS)--Several hours after Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced on April 9 his plan to retire this summer, Americans United for Life, an anti-choice advocacy group, targeted one possible candidate, Judge Diane P. Wood of the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, as someone who "would return the abortion wars to the Supreme Court" because of her pro-choice decisions.

Calling President Obama "unquestionably the most pro-abortion president in history," the Chicago-based nonprofit public interest law and policy organization later also objected to Solicitor General Elena Kagan, among other names circulating in speculative press reports.

Both women were also mentioned in connection with the Supreme Court vacancy a year ago. Here are their brief biographies and views on abortion.

Diane P. Wood

Judge Diane P. Wood has served on the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago for the past 15 years and has written over 400 opinions during her tenure there. She is a former clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who authored the 1973 Roe decision mandating that abortion be legal.

When President Bill Clinton nominated Wood, she was deputy assistant general in the anti-trust division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She faced no questions about abortion during her confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

So far, no reproductive rights organization has spoken in favor of nominating any candidate reported to be on Obama's list. But these groups can be assumed to look favorably on Wood for taking pro-choice positions in several cases in the 7th circuit.

On legislation approved for Illinois and Wisconsin, she wrote a dissent against "partial birth" abortions, a term with no clinical meaning that is presumed to serve to widen--by its vagueness--the applicable time limitations of laws that already outlaw late-term abortions. The Supreme Court later approved the bans and accepted the politicized terminology.

Her most controversial ruling said that abortion providers could be awarded damages from anti-choice protestors under the "RICO" anti-racketeering statues, a decision that was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Like Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who issued a similar ruling as a federal judge in New York, Wood ruled in favor of a female immigrant who opposed being sent back to China because of China's policies on forced abortion and birth control.

Wood's name began circulating as a candidate for the "woman's seat" on the Supreme Court in early 2009 when the press reported that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might resign because she was being treated for pancreatic cancer. Obama interviewed Wood for David Souter's position when the pro-choice Republican retired last summer, but ultimately tapped Sotomayor, the first Hispanic judge.

Like Stevens, Wood, 59, would bring geographic and educational diversity to the court. A native of Chicago, Stevens received his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and his law degree at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Wood would replace Stevens as the only non-Ivy Leaguer on the court. A New Jersey native, Wood moved to Texas with her family at age 16 and received her bachelor's and law degrees at the University of Texas. Like Obama, Wood has taught at the University of Chicago Law School. For many years, Wood was the only woman on the faculty. In addition to teaching anti-trust, federal civil procedures and international trade and business, Wood served as associate dean for three years.

Stevens is currently the only Protestant on the court, which otherwise is composed of six Catholics and two Jews. Wood has not stated her religious preference. Stevens' retirement raises the prospect that--for the first time in U.S. history--the court will not have a Protestant judge, although Protestants are the largest denomination and have supported pro-choice positions in numerous cases.

Wood is married to a neurologist at Northwestern University Medical School and has three adult children and three stepchildren.

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