The important question is not whom he nominates, but why. Despite the rhetoric that is sure to come at the announcement press conference, there is no "best" choice or "most qualified" nominee. The best choice will be the most talented person among the pool of people who embody the value, or values, that President Obama thinks the Court now needs.
Leadership is about taking some risks in behalf of purpose, and the issue for the President is what kind of Supreme Court he wants to create. No nominee will please all the interests and factions that want to weigh in on the question or that think he owes them loyalty here.
In that sense, the choice will tell us more about the President, his values and his priorities, than almost any other single decision he has made in his first 100 days. We will learn a lot about what he cares about - and who he is willing to disappoint. His selection will be an exercise of leadership if he chooses to disappoint his own people in favor of some value that is more important to him than pleasing his core supporters.
The unwavering liberal and the nudger from the center are only two possible values that he might want to honor. For example, I can see him tipping in favor of a nominee who, because of race or gender, makes the court look closer to the rest of America. Or a nominee whose pedigree and resume are so above reproach that the Senate's "advise and consent" becomes a foregone conclusion, and thus avoids a divisive battle which diverts attention from the rest of the Administration's agenda.
Based on his statements that the Court needs people with real world not just judicial experience, and his own demonstrated pragmatism, I could imagine him selecting an elected official or someone from some other realm of public life whose special gift will be for wading through the internal politics of the Court than for writing historically significant opinions. Or, given his massive domestic agenda, he might want someone who shares his belief in an activist government.
My guess? President Obama sees himself as a healer, not a divider, and will nominate someone whose most important qualification beyond competence is having demonstrated the courage and skill to perform a consensus-building role in other venues.
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