- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 11, 2010

UPDATED:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators who will help shape the review of President Obama’s next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court said Sunday he must pick someone with “mainstream” judicial views to avoid efforts to block a vote.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wouldn’t rule out using a filibuster — a legislative maneuver to block a final vote on a nominee — to “protect the Constitution” from a high court nominee who, he said, would make law rather than interpret it.

Whether there’s a drawn-out fight over a successor to retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, “is in the president’s hands,” Mr. Sessions said. Justice Stevens plans to step down when the court finishes its work for the summer.

Added Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who is the Senate’s minority whip and a committee member, of a filibuster: “I’m not going to take it off the table, but I think it can easily be avoided.”

That led Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and also a committee member, to claim that “it’s just about a certainty that the president will nominate someone in the mainstream, so the likelihood of a filibuster is tiny.”

Mr. Kyl said it would take “extraordinary circumstances” to compel a Republican filibuster. Republicans are likely to echo those terms — judicial mainstream and extraordinary circumstances — during the confirmation process. Just as likely is disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over how the nominee’s views fit those terms.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, predicted that Mr. Obama will nominate Justice Stevens’ replacement in time for hearings to wrap up this summer and for the nine-member court to be at full strength for the fall term in October.

“He wants somebody who has a sense of what real life is in America,” Mr. Leahy said. Calling a filibuster “the lazy person’s way out,” the senator said he didn’t think there would be one.

In 2005, when Democrats were in the minority in the Senate and some of President George W. Bush’s picks for the federal bench were stalled, a group of 14 centrist Republicans and Democrats agreed not to prevent a vote on judicial nominees except under extraordinary circumstances. Exactly what constituted such circumstances was not part of the compromise.

Now in the minority, Republicans fiercely opposed Mr. Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, last year. With only 40 votes in the Senate then, Republicans alone would not have been able to prevent an up-or-down vote. The Senate eventually voted 68-31 — all but nine Republicans were against her confirmation — in Justice Sotomayor’s favor.

With the election in January of Sen. Scott Brown in a Massachusetts special election, Republicans now can unite for a successful filibuster.

“If we have a nominee that evidences a philosophy of judges know best, that they can amend the Constitution by saying it has evolved, and effectuate agendas, then we’re going to have a big fight about that because the American people don’t want that,” Mr. Sessions said.

Mr. Sessions and Mr. Leahy appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” while Mr. Kyl and Mr. Schumer were on ABC’s “This Week.”

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