By Susan Crabtree and Michael O’Brien - 04/13/10 12:03 AM EDT
Liberal activist groups are pushing back against speculation that President Barack Obama will nominate a centrist to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed confidence Monday that the Senate would confirm a successor before the court begins its October session, which would comply with Obama’s self-imposed deadline.
Some Democrats, Biel wrote, are urging Obama to try to avoid a fight with Republicans by picking someone with a very short track record.
That is a dreadful idea, he pointed out, especially when the court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, a choice of then-President George W. Bush’s, is “packed with right-wing Republican” appointees and is “threatening our democracy by dramatically expanding the power of big corporations.”
Biel referred to the recent Citizens United decision, which allow corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertisements.
Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans over the weekend held out the remote possibility of a filibuster, but only if Obama nominates someone outside the judicial mainstream. While Democrats only need a majority vote to win confirmation, they need 60 votes to win procedural motions on the nomination.
The party holds 59 of the Senate’s seats, one fewer than during Sotomayor’s confirmation battle.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has promised a “sustained and vigorous” vetting of the eventual nominee’s record, while Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) specifically left open the possibility of a filibuster.
Leahy, who will oversee hearings for whomever is nominated, said an October confirmation is entirely consistent with recent history. Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2005, while Sonia Sotomayor was Obama’s first nominee. She was confirmed last year.
Republicans, for their part, hit the talk show circuit to try to influence Obama to pick a more middle-of-the-road choice. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a veteran member of the Judiciary panel, said Monday that the committee’s Republicans would be more willing to work to confirm a nominee they view as a non-activist.
“I can say that if the president picks someone who’s clearly qualified, I think there’s no question we can get that person through in a relatively short period of time,” Hatch said during a joint interview with Leahy on NBC.
“On the other hand, if he picks an activist judge — I don’t care if the activist judge is liberal or conservative, we ought to do everything in our power to defeat that person.”
Leahy blamed GOP opposition for what he said were longer and longer confirmation battles on Supreme Court nominees.
He also said he’s discussed some of the candidates for the bench with the president, but declined to elaborate on that discussion. The shortlist is said to include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears.
“The Supreme Court really does count and we should get down and begin work as soon as possible,” Leahy said.
Hatch also created a stir Monday morning by suggesting that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton might be nominated to replace Stevens, implying that she could be a strong nominee.
“I even heard the name Hillary Clinton today, and that would be an interesting person in the mix,” Hatch said on the “Today Show.”
“I happen to like Hillary Clinton, I think she’s done a good job for the Democrat secretary of State’s position. And I have high respect for her, and think a great deal of her.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quickly threw cold water on any notion of a Clinton appointment. He said Obama “has identified in Secretary Clinton a capacity in which she’s doing a wonderful job, and I think the president is going to keep her as secretary of State.”
Gibbs thanked Hatch for the suggestion, but he pointed out that Hatch also said the process could be done very quickly. Obama and Democrats are pushing for confirmation of the nominee before the court’s fall term starts in October.
Gibbs wouldn’t comment on potential nominees, though, saying there are “many weeks to spin the big wheel and play the name game.”