If you can answer these questions to your satisfaction, you can produce your own short list. Forget speculation and leaks, forget the flavor of the week. Put yourself in President Obama's mind -- his curious, strategic, long-term-thinking mind -- and ask the questions he'll be asking himself.
1. When did Obama start to think about this?
As early as November, he met with leading advisers about his first pick. That's when dossiers were first compiled. Right after he was elected, and before he experienced the brain-changing duties of being president, Obama had some specific candidates in mind...
2. How many other Supreme Court appointments does Obama believe he will get to make? 1? 2?
Why this matters: if Obama knows that he'll have another pick, or has strong reason to believe that he will, he'll face less immediate pressure about using gender and race as criteria when choosing his first nominee.
3. Does Obama want a confirmation fight with Republicans?
My guess is: no.
4. Will there be a tug between who Obama wants to nominate on the one hand and the obvious person he should nominate on the other?
The Obama legacy, politics, precedent -- all will factor into Obama's final decision. My sense is that he does have a favorite candidate, but he is not convinced that he should nominate that person.
5. If Obama narrows his short list to two people -- a white guy and an Hispanic female -- are gender and ethnicity going to play a role?
6. Who is the most brilliant, confirmable, center-left jurist alive today who is younger than 60?
Why this matters: Obama advisers expect Obama to pick the person he considers the most brilliant, confirmable, center-left jurist alive today. And young enough to make an indelible imprint on constitutional jurisprudence.
7. Who is the most brilliant, conformable, center-left jurist alive today who practices west of the Mississippi?
Just a hunch about the short list.
8. Of sitting judges and practicing lawyers, who would be most able to persuade Anthony Kennedy by sheer force of argument?
This one is obvious, but crucial: the person must be able to help liberals win cases; Kennedy is a persuadable vote; a progressive, pragmatic justice is the type of person who could win Kennedy's favor.
9. Does Obama have a history of rewarding his friends? Will he be inclined to pick someone he already knows?
10. Think about the first picture of Obama and the nominee. What will it look like? What will Obama want that picture to project?