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TribBlog: Back on the Short List

Supporters may tout her as a Chicago justice for a Chicago president, but Diane Wood — said to be in serious consideration as a replacement for the retiring John Paul Stevens — got her start in Texas: as an undergrad and a law student at UT-Austin.

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John Paul Stevens announced this morning that he’s leaving the Supreme Court, and this afternoon the names of potential replacements are already being floated. Along with Solicitor General Elena Kagan and D.C. circuit judge Merrick Garland, 7th circuit judge's Diane Wood name has once again popped up.

Supporters may tout Wood as a Chicago justice for a Chicago president, but she got her start in Texas. After moving to the state from New Jersey at 16, she enrolled at the University of Texas for undergrad and law school. She’d be the second UT Law alum to serve on the court after Tom C. Clark, the Dallas native who was first a U.S. Attorney General. She graduated in 1975 with high honors after serving as editor of the Texas Law Review. Her daughter happens to currently attend the law school.

"She was a standout star student, in terms of ability level, and seemed to be really enjoying herself,” said UT Law professor David Robertson, who taught her in a first-year torts class. He described her as an “extremely attractive person” who was “very modest and calm.”

Wood served as a research assistant for a second professor, David Anderson, who also taught her property law. Anderson said she was “very solidly grounded” and “fun, lively, and a good conversationalist.”

Anderson and Robertson also both point to her amiable relationship with her colleagues on the 7th circuit, famed conservative jurists Richard Posner and Gregg Easterbrook. Robertson, who follows her opinions closely, said “they’re clearly cordial adversaries” and that she’s “in no way outshone by those guys.” Anderson adds: “She's proved to be very good at maintaining her own views and holding her ground against the best conservative minds on the bench."

Wood and Kagan were also on the short list to replace David Souter last year, but Sonya Sotomayor ended up getting the nod. Wood’s age (at 58, she was older than most recent nominees to the court) and a past decision against anti-abortion protesters unpopular with the right were both offered as possible reasons she didn't make the cut.

One reason she could make it this time is that she has a lot in common with Stevens. Leave out her Texas roots and her background uncannily aligns with the retiring justice’s: They’re both antitrust experts with non-Ivy league law degrees who taught at the University of Chicago on their way to sit on the 7th circuit. And there’s one more thing. Stevens' retirement opens the door for the country’s highest court to find itself without a Protestant for the first time in history. Wood happens to be Protestant.

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