How does Souter news change Judiciary calculus?

Arlen Specter's party switch complicated the Republican situation on the Judiciary Committee. But the news that Justice Souter will retire from the Supreme Court complicates the calculus even further.

Now that Specter's a Democrat, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has the right to claim the Ranking Member position on Judiciary. But Grassley is already RM on the Finance Committee, and GOP rules prevent him from holding the top spots on both panels.

The Hill reported on Wednesday that Grassley hoped to strike a deal with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in which Sessions would claim the Judiciary post until 2010. By that time, Grassley would be term-limited out of his Finance position and would assume the top spot at Judiciary. Sessions would move to the Budget Committee.

But the prospect of an immediate Supreme Court nomination changes the calculus. First, Grassley may be more eager to move to Judiciary to have a hand in the historic process. On the other hand, conservatives may prefer Sessions, who has been rock solid on right-leaning judicial nominations. (Sessions was once nominated to a federal judgeship by President Reagan and lost a bitter confirmation fight.)

The conservative blogosphere is already abuzz with anticipation of the Judiciary battle. Hogan at RedState reacted to the news of Souter's decision thusly: "[L]et's start with this...Jeff Sessions should be Republican Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee."

Grassley, Hogan continued is one "of the old guard Republicans in the Senate who have given us the train wreck that the Party has become...Jeff Sessions, on the other hand, would field a talented [staff] team who could educate America on just who America is getting in the next Supreme Court justice."

Keep an eye on the blogosphere in the next few days to see how the deabte over the nomination fight shapes up. On the right, check out the three lawyers over at Power Line. For an academic's take, bookmark Eugene Volokh, et al. On the left, keep up with Daphne Eviatar, Glenn Greenwald, and Dahlia Lithwick at Slate.