Obama, leading senators discuss Supreme Court pick
WASHINGTON — Democratic senators say President Barack Obama plans to make his Supreme Court nomination soon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy made the comment Wednesday after meeting with Obama to discuss his upcoming pick to replace Justice David Souter on the high court. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is the top Republican on Judiciary, also took part in the closed meeting with Obama.
Sessions said his impression was that Obama doesn’t want to take too long to make his pick. The White House has ruled out an announcement this week.
Leahy promised to run a fair confirmation hearing. He said he did not want to be pinned down to a timetable on confirmation.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking a smooth confirmation for his first Supreme Court pick, President Barack Obama is reaching out to senators who will shape the pace and tone of the process. Already, one Republican is prodding Obama not to choose a nominee who will rule based on feelings.
Obama’s latest consultation, a private bipartisan meeting at the White House, comes as he zeros in on a nominee to replace Justice David Souter. Souter is part of the court’s liberal wing, and his replacement by the new Democratic president is not expected to change the high court’s ideological balance.
The president is meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on Judiciary. Obama is likely to name his nominee this month, but not this week.
Already, Obama has made clear he wants a justice who not only is schooled in the law but passionate about how it affects people’s lives. In many ways, the former constitutional law teacher wants someone like himself.
Ahead of the meeting, Sessions cautioned that Republicans, in confirmation hearings, will investigate whether Obama has selected a nominee “who respects the Constitution or one who intends to rewrite it.”
“Consistent adherence to the written law, regardless of a justice’s feelings toward a particular person or political group in a case, is an essential element to an orderly society,” Sessions wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Obama has made clear that he wants a justice who understands how laws affect people’s daily realities.
“I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes,” Obama said when announcing Souter’s retirement earlier this month.
Obama wants his nominee to get through Senate review, hearings and voting before Congress breaks in August so the matter isn’t left for the last month of summer. The timetable would ensure the new justice is seated for the next court term in October.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he couldn’t say whether Obama would be “washing names” through the senators at Wednesday’s meeting, but that it would focus heavily on process. Obama is intent on trying to keep the names of those he is considering private.
His thinking is largely driven by his own life: community organizer in Chicago, president of the Harvard Law Review, instructor of constitutional law, member of the Senate during two Supreme Court confirmations. He is not just setting the tone; he is engaged in the search.
“I don’t think you’ll see, in picking a Supreme Court nominee, that the president is going to look for a recommendation and agree or disagree with that,” Gibbs said. “You have a president who understands and has studied many of these issues — even taught them. This is a process that will be decided ultimately by him.”
What’s known is that Obama is likely to choose a female candidate for a nine-member court that has just one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He is expected to choose a relatively young person who could serve for decades and may opt for someone from outside the traditional path of the federal appellate system.
Outside groups and even the Senate’s newest Democrat, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have urged Obama to choose a female, arguing that women are underrepresented on the court. Other organizations have pressed for the president to select a Hispanic.
The White House, determined to cast Obama’s decision as his own, has signaled to advocacy groups to keep their campaigns to themselves. Still, some of those groups will get an audience of their own Wednesday at the White House with senior staff to make their cases.
“I don’t think that the lobbying of interest groups will help,” Gibbs said. “I think in many ways lobbying can, and will, be counterproductive.”
Obama may be in position to make at least one more nomination this term due to retirement. Ginsburg is 76 and recently underwent cancer surgery. Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, is the oldest member of the court.
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