Sen. Orrin G. Hatch on Monday said President Obama promised him he would not nominate a radical liberal to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.
The Utah Republican said he warned the president “against choosing a judicial activist,” and he said Mr. Obama agreed.
Mr. Hatchs comment emerged as Mr. Obama began consulting with senators about his pending selection and as Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative former prosecutor from Alabama, became the likely top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will vet Mr. Obama’s eventual choice.
In his early outreach to both parties, Mr. Obama spoke Monday with Mr. Hatch and Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced last week he was changing parties to become a Democrat to have a better chance of winning re-election in Pennsylvania next year.
The White House, in a statement, said only that Mr. Obama told both men he would consult regularly with senators.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration understands there are ideological debates about a potential nominee, but he said Mr. Obama is looking to steer a middle course.
“I think the vast majority of the American people are not on either end of this, but instead somewhere in the middle, looking for the very same requirements that the president is looking for:somebody that understands the rule of law, somebody that has a record of excellence and integrity, somebody who also understands how these opinions affect everyday lives and will exercise some common sense,” he said.
While saying the search process would be conducted privately, Mr. Gibbs said the president will move quickly in order to have a nominee ready when the court convenes on Oct. 5 after its summer recess. He said that “fairly tight timeline” means Congress will have to be well along in the process before it leaves for its August recess.
The committee’s Republicans unanimously selected Mr. Sessions to lead them. The decision will be confirmed by the entire Senate Republican Conference on Tuesday.
Mr. Sessions, who fought vociferously on behalf of former President George W. Bush’s conservative judicial nominees, brings a unique perspective on nominations to the committee: His own 1986 nomination to a federal court was blocked by Democrats.