WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, treading carefully in the explosive arena of abortion and the Supreme Court, said Wednesday that he will choose a nominee who pays heed to the rights of women and the privacy of their bodies. Yet he said he won't enforce any abortion rights "litmus tests."
Obama said it is "very important to me" that his court choice take women's rights into account in interpreting the Constitution, his most expansive comments yet about how a woman's right to choose will factor into his decision.
He plans to choose someone to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens within "the next couple weeks," he told CNBC.
Obama accelerated his political outreach and his conversations with candidates, positioning himself for one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency. He invited Senate leaders, Republicans and Democrats, to discuss the issue at the White House and commented briefly before their private meeting.
His rejection of the idea of "litmus tests" was standard presidential language, keeping him from being boxed in and protecting his eventual nominee from charges of bringing preconceived decisions to the bench.
Obama's pick is not expected to change the ideological balance on the court, though Stevens, the leader of the court's liberals, has played a major role in the court's upholding of abortion rights. Stevens, 90, is retiring this summer.
Whoever Obama picks has the potential to affect the lives and rights of Americans for a generation or more.
The president is considering about 10 people, including a newly confirmed name, federal appeals court Judge Ann Williams of Chicago.
Among the others are appeals court judges Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow.
When asked if he could nominate someone who did not support a woman's right to choose, Obama said: "I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction."
He said he would not judge candidates on a single-issue abortion test.