Just like that, Justice John Paul Stevens is on his way out, and the Supreme Court replacement machine has begun to churn. On the Sunday shows this week, everyone took their places. Senate Democrats spoke of a quick, orderly confirmation process, while Senate Republicans broached the dreaded F word filibuster with lots of added talk about the U.S. Constitution being on the brink. "I'm hearing a lot about that, frankly, all over as I travel my state and in airports that people believe that we're losing our constitutional respect, that our government is overreaching, and they're concerned about it," said Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. His comments, filled with conservative buzzwords, signaled what everyone already expects. The coming fight in the Senate will be at least as much about base politics as about the legal qualifications of the nominee.
Early signs suggest that President Obama has no interest in adding much fuel to the inevitable fire. Though he is considering as many as 10 candidates, most observers and some insiders put the odds on his selecting from a short list of established legal minds, all well-respected and accomplished jurists who will likely deflect inevitable claims that they are outside the mainstream of legal thought. Here is a look at the leading contenders.