Obama Begins Interviewing Potential Supreme Court Nominees
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Sources close to the process tell NPR that President Obama has begun interviewing potential nominees for the Supreme Court vacancy. The president is planning to nominate someone to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, despite Republican senators' warnings that they will not consider or even meet with an Obama appointee. They want the next president to make that nomination. NPR's Nina Totenberg is here with the latest on the confirmation process. Hi, Nina.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Who, briefly, is the president considering in these interviews?
TOTENBERG: We've got five names here. They're all judges. None of them have a political background, per se. The top three, I'd say, are Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Sri Srinivasan of the same court and Judge Paul Watford of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.
SHAPIRO: And what does a president typically look for in these kinds of interviews?
TOTENBERG: Well, don't know exactly what they ask. But as one person put it to me, a president usually is looking for a person who is, as he put it, like me, has my values. And then, can I sell him or her?
SHAPIRO: And with President Obama, what does like me with my values mean?
TOTENBERG: Well, he used to use the word empathy. He doesn't use that anymore. What he means, he says, is somebody who sees the law in the real world, defers to the elected branches of government - that is Congress and the president - and doesn't make it up out of whole cloth in the courts. Of course, that's very much what Republicans say they're for, too.
SHAPIRO: Given that most Republicans in the Senate have said they don't even plan to meet with the nominee, how will this go once Obama makes a nomination?
TOTENBERG: Well, I think you can look for the rollout to be very different. You know, normally it's sort of a pas de deux. You expect what's going to happen. There's the big ceremony in the White House, then the nominee goes and meets with people on the Hill from both parties, and eventually there's a hearing. Well here, Mitch McConnell has already said there's not going to be a hearing; we're not going to meet with anybody. John Cornyn, the Republican whip, has said we're going to make this person a pinata. So I expect that the Democrats will elongate the process of their meeting with the nominee, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the nominee perhaps go to the door of his home state senator and knock on the door and not get a meeting.
SHAPIRO: Nobody's home?
TOTENBERG: Nobody's home. That would not surprise me if, for example, Sri Srinivasan went to the Kansas senator's door and didn't get a greeting.
SHAPIRO: Because he's from Kansas.
TOTENBERG: He's from Kansas. And so that's the kind of thing you might expect. It's an attempt to break the Republicans' resolve not to have a hearing because the minute you have a hearing, that means that the next step becomes more and more possible.
SHAPIRO: Given that some Republicans are talking about the nominee being a pinata, are the people President Obama is interviewing basically just setting themselves up to be sacrificial lambs?
TOTENBERG: Well, there's always the future, and we don't know what's going to happen in the election. Imagine just for a moment that this is November 10 and a Democrat has won the White House and the Democrats have either taken over the Senate or, at the very least, deprived Republican senators of the kind of majority they now have in the Senate. Do you suppose in the lame-duck session they might prefer to pick one of these people, as sort of moderate liberal, compared to the unknown that they might get from the next President Clinton or Sanders?
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Thanks, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.