Obama: No Abortion Litmus Test For Court

President Obama met with four key senators on Wednesday to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy, his priorities in filing the seat, and plans for Senate hearings. Before the meeting at the Oval Office, the president said he hopes to nominate someone to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens by the end of May, at the latest. The president also said there would be no "litmus test" on abortion.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

We begin this hour at the White House, where President Obama is deep in the process of selecting his second Supreme Court nominee. The Constitution says the Senate's role in the matter is to offer advice and consent. Today came the advice part. Four key senators met with President Obama this morning. In a moment we'll hear from one of the Republicans who attended that meeting.

First, here's NPR's Ari Shapiro at the White House.

ARI SHAPIRO: The senators pulled up to the White House on a rainy Washington morning. Inside the Oval Office they flanked President Obama and Vice President Biden. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shared one couch. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking member Jeff Sessions faced them on another. It was a repeat of a scene that took place a year ago before President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

This morning the president thanked the senators for their cooperation in that process. And he said he hopes this confirmation runs just as smoothly in order to put someone on the court before the next term begins.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm confident that we can come up with a nominee who will gain the confidence of the Senate and the confidence of the country and confidence of individuals who look to the court to provide even-handed justice to all Americans.

SHAPIRO: The president has already started interviewing potential nominees. Today he said he hopes to announce his choice soon.

Pres. OBAMA: Last time the nomination went up at the end of May. We are certainly going to meet that deadline and we hope maybe we can accelerate a little bit.

SHAPIRO: The president took one question from a reporter. And in what may be a foreshadowing of the questions his nominee will get, the reporter asked about abortion, specifically, would you nominate someone who does not support abortion rights?

Pres. OBAMA: I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is, I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues, but I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights and that includes women's rights.

SHAPIRO: About half an hour later, Senator Reid stood in the White House driveway and underscored the importance of this summer's confirmation process.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The Senate's reputation is on the line here. Everyone recognized how important this is, beginning with the president. He suggested that if any of us have names that we want to give him, then we should do it, we should just call him directly.

SHAPIRO: Senator Leahy criticized the current Supreme Court for tilting the scales of justice in favor of corporate rights.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): We have right now a very, very activist, conservative activist Supreme Court. I think this does not reflect the American people, but it reflects more of a partisan agenda. I would hope that the president's nominee can get us back away from that and reflect the American people.

SHAPIRO: This nomination is not likely to change the court's ideological balance. Leahy confidently predicted that the new Supreme Court justice will be confirmed by August. Republican Senators McConnell and Sessions expressed a note of caution. They left without speaking to reporters at the White House. But in a joint statement they said, quote, "A lifetime position on the nation's highest court requires a thorough process, not a rush to judgment."

After this morning's meeting, the president called nine members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including three Republicans. The White House says he'll call more senators in the days ahead.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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