U.S. President Barack Obama names attorney Patricia Ann Millett (R), who has argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court, to be a judge on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington in this June 4, 2013 file photo. Credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE | REUTERS

Larisa Epatko of PBS News Hour’s The Rundown political blog has compiled what she’s called a “short list” of potential nominees to replace longtime U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep at the age of 79 Saturday.

The question of whether and when President Barack Obama should pick a replacement has quickly turned into a heated political debate with implications on the 2016 presidential election, as the Democrat has an opportunity to push for a liberal justice to take the place of the deeply conservative Scalia and tip the court’s balance to the left. Republicans in the Senate, which must vet whoever the president nominates, have vowed to fight Obama’s choice if he makes one before leaving office early next year.

“Already, names of several possible replacements have been floated on talk shows and in various media reports,” Epatko reported.

Among those names, she wrote, is Patricia Ann Millett, 52, a Dexter native who is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The D.C. Circuit has been called something of a launchpad to the nation’s highest court, and indeed, Millet was Obama’s choice in 2013 to fill the Court of Appeals vacancy left by none other than John Roberts when he was tapped to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Although her approval by the Senate was delayed, Millett’s nomination was ultimately approved by a lopsided 56-38 vote.

But although that relatively recent confirmation by the Senate is seen as a boon for some other potential nominees for the Supreme Court vacancy, the politics don’t favor Millett as much.

The argument for some possible nominees who were relatively recent additions to the U.S. Court of Appeals is that it may be hard for GOP lawmakers to explain why they approved of them in 2012 or 2013, but now all-of-a-sudden don’t.

Those senators in question would have to either accept those nominees to stay consistent with their evaluation of just a few years ago — and by extension allow a Democratic choice onto the court — or reject them and have their votes look like obvious political obstructionism, some analysts say.

Such political maneuvering would be most effective if Obama nominated current U.S. Court of Appeals judges Sri Srinivasan, Jane Kelly or Jacqueline Nguyen, though, who were all ratified by unanimous Senate votes of 96- or 97-0, casting a wider net of Republicans who recently approved of their candidacies.

In the case of Millett, only two GOP senators — Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — approved her nomination in late 2013 in what was otherwise a partisan split. Even though that Republican opposition was likely more in protest of new rules aimed at undermining Senate filibusters than Millett herself, those senators would have political cover to vote against her again without contradicting themselves in 2016.

Nonetheless, Millett’s resume for the high court position is strong.

As the New York Times reports: “Before joining the Circuit Court, she headed the Supreme Court and appellate practices at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. She also worked as an assistant to the United States solicitor general. She has argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court. Ms. Millett is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and earned a law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1988.”

If Millett were to be nominated and confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, she would be the first Mainer in more than a century to do so. Augusta native Melville Fuller served as the Chief Justice of the country’s highest court from 1888 until 1910. Before Fuller, Portland lawyer Nathan Clifford served from 1858 to 1881 on the Supreme Court.

She’d also be the fifth woman to have ever been seated on the high court and bring the current number of women on the Supreme Court to four.

Here’s Millett’s more complete record, as of her review by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013:

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.