WASHINGTON - As President Obama mulls a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, he is said to be open to someone from outside the world of "abstract legal theory" -- perhaps a lawyer with an Ivy League pedigree, but one grounded in people's lives who brings a measure of diversity to the court.

To some experts, that sounds a lot like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Except she says she's not interested. Even if she were, the theory goes, she's all but ruled out by the fact that her nomination would give Gov. Tim Pawlenty a chance to send a Republican to the U.S. Senate to replace her.

Klobuchar surfacing in the Washington name game does say something about the dynamics of the modern-day Supreme Court nomination process, where politics and personal biography count at least as much as judicial qualifications. It also underscores the threat of a long, drawn-out confirmation battle, which some analysts believe will pressure Obama to pick a moderate.

So in the political prism of Washington, the case for Klobuchar goes like this: centrist voting record, check. Yale, University of Chicago Law School education, check. Ex-prosecutor with law-and-order credentials, check. Popular with Senate Democrats and Republicans alike, check. A woman, check. Plus, she would give the high court its only Midwesterner and its only Protestant.

"She checks some demographic boxes as a woman and someone who is relatively young," said Washington attorney Tom Goldstein. He was one of the first to put Klobuchar's name in play through his influential SCOTUS blog, which is devoted to the Supreme Court. It doesn't hurt, Goldstein said, that she's "incredibly articulate."

The main ingredient that the 49-year-old, first-term senator is missing is that she's never been a judge, which would make her a rarity among modern Supreme Court nominees. One exception was the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former California governor whom Obama has called a judicial hero of his.

Before last year's nomination of Justice Sonya Sotomayor, now one of two women on the court, Obama said he was looking for a justice who "isn't about some abstract legal theory. ... It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives."

The attention surrounding Klobuchar, who is still not on any semi-official list leaked by the White House, highlights the rising importance of extrajudicial considerations in the nomination process, especially since the bruising confirmation battles over Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.

Even with no judicial experience, Klobuchar, a former Hennepin County Attorney, has been called a possible Supreme Court nominee by the Washington Post, MSNBC, CBS' "Face the Nation" and others.

The president's pick will be vetted by a multitude of partisan interest groups, opposition researchers and party officials -- not all of them aiming for the single most qualified person for the court.

"Supreme Court nominations are the apex of interest group politics," said Hamline University political scientist David Schultz, who also teaches law at the University of Minnesota. "It's going to be the person who can be best vetted by interest groups, and who is most likely to get through."

'A wise Slovenian'

Klobuchar has nodded indirectly to the role of identity politics in the process by joking that she disqualified herself in speeches about being a "wise Slovenian" -- a play on Sotomayor's controversial description of herself as a "wise Latina."

Much of the buzz about Klobuchar has focused on her easygoing manner in the Senate, where she is seen as a moderate who gets on well with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The thinking, according to some, is that her GOP colleagues would be hard-pressed to block her nomination.

That could be an important consideration at a time when Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster any judicial nomination they deem too radical. Still, the theory of Senate deference is an unproven one. No U.S. senator has been named to the Supreme Court in modern times.

Amid the buzz, Klobuchar is not on any short list of top prospects to replace Stevens, who is retiring this summer. Most mentioned are federal appeals court judge Sidney Thomas of Montana, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, federal appeals court judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

But with her Ivy League schooling and the smarts she has shown on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Klobuchar's name is likely to remain in play until Obama makes his pick public.

"Without knowing anything about the internal speculations inside the White House, if you were looking for an extremely well prepared, intelligent politician who could also serve at the highest level on the court, then she should be considered," said George Washington University law Prof. Jeff Rosen, a Supreme Court expert.

To Klobuchar, the speculation on whether she might join Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun as a Minnesota-bred Supreme Court justice remains moot. Why? "Because I love my job, and because we are in very difficult economic times and I wouldn't abandon the people of Minnesota right now," she said. "We haven't had a lot of stability in our representation in the Senate, and I think it's very important to stay here."

A bigger impediment is that Pawlenty, a Republican, would get to fill any U.S. Senate vacancy from Minnesota that occurred this summer. An interim senator could serve until 2011 before facing election.

But don't count out Klobuchar for the next high court opening, which could come by next year, said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: "We may have a third nomination coming up in the Obama term. At that time, we may have a DFL governor, and everything will fall into place."

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.