The sudden, if unsurprising, announcement that Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter will retire instantly ratcheted up the scrutiny and political pressure on President Barack Obama and on the growing list of potential replacements — some of whom are already drawing fire.

The earlier-than-usual prospect of a vacancy — they are usually announced at the end of a Supreme Court term in late June — will give potential opponents of whomever Obama names more time to gather steam before confirmation hearings are scheduled. Planning for a departure on the high court, Obama and aides have been drawing up lists of candidates for months, but were not expecting to have to finalize a choice in the glare of the public spotlight.

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