WASHINGTON — Emboldened by success the first time around, President Obama is likely to pick the Supreme Court nominee he wants and let the confirmation fight proceed from there, putting huge emphasis on a justice who would bring a fight-for-the-little-guy sensibility to the job.
Politics will certainly play into Obama's calculus: He no longer has the votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, and a minority Republican Party in fierce opposition to Obama's agenda has little incentive to hand him a win just months before House and Senate elections.
But Obama's strategy worked when he chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter last year — announce the criteria he deems the most vital for a nominee, vet the nominees with no embarrassing gaffes or leaks, and pick the one with whom he feels the most comfort.
Confirmability was a factor then, not a driver. Expect much the same now.
It is his criterion — Obama has called it empathy, or seeing life and the law through others' eyes — that defined his choice of Sotomayor.
It seems sure to do so again this time, inviting a political fight.
Obama's task is to replace the liberal lion of the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, who on Friday announced his coming retirement.
In quick succession, Obama has a rare chance to choose two justices who could shape the court's rulings for decades. He has given every sign that he approaches this decision the way aggressive coaches prefer to call strategy — playing to win, as opposed to playing not to lose.
In choosing a nominee over the next few weeks, Obama is inclined to stick with his formula of going all in, like he did in getting a health care reform law, the biggest and most consuming fight of his presidency. The view from the White House is that the president is almost certain to face a political and ideological fight in this election year no matter whom he nominates to the court; the only issue is to what degree. So why scale back?