Sen. Sessions On Supreme Court Vacancy

Melissa Block talks to Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. Sessions attended a bipartisan meeting Wednesday morning at the White House, where he met with President Obama and other senators to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy that will be left once Justice John Paul Stevens retires.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama joins us now. He is the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Sessions, welcome to the program.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Thank you.

BLOCK: Did you hear something from President Obama when you met with him today that makes you feel comfortable with the direction in which he's heading as he picks a nominee?

Sen. SESSIONS: I thought we had a good meeting. He handled himself very well in those kind of meetings. It was very cordial and business like, somewhat like the meeting we had last year before the Sotomayor nomination. He didn't give any names, didn't really commit to the kind of nominee that he is looking at but indicated that some of the people he's considering are people he knows from previous reviews and that some were new to the process.

BLOCK: Did you offer the president some guidance for the kind of nominee that you would like to see him put before the Senate?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, you know, we did have a bit of a discussion about what kind of experience. Some suggested that a non-judge would be good, maybe someone with political experience. I indicated that I thought that was not the preferred kind of nominee, that the American people wanted someone who had a record of objectivity and fairness, professional skill and that a politician would not be the kind of person that I would favor for the office.

BLOCK: Before the meeting today, we heard the president say he doesn't have a litmus test around the issue of abortion. He did say he believes that constitutional values, though, include the protection of privacy and what he called bodily integrity. Could you, do you think, support a nominee who also embraces that belief?

Sen. SESSIONS: It's the question, you know, fundamentally of a person's constitutional analysis. You know, people can disagree. And I think it would result in simply how they analyze the cases and not just that case, but the many, many, many other issues that come before the court. So we would like to see I would like to see a nominee who is committed to faithfully following the Constitution as it is written. And that understands that they're not empowered to consult polling data or social conditions as they interpret the existing words of our Constitution.

BLOCK: And if it were to be a nominee whose rulings indicate that they would preserve Roe vs. Wade, would that be a disqualifier for you?

Sen. SESSIONS: I don't think that would be a disqualifier. It may be a case that I wouldn't agree with but I think the nominee does have to have a commitment to the rule of law. And you will have to see that over a period of time, both in their, maybe their cases, if theyre judges or through their writings, if theyre not judges or their speeches that they've given. And they're entitled to a fair evaluation, but it's a very serious matter.

If a judge is not committed to following that Constitution as it is, the laws of the United States as they are, and understand that they are, as their oath says, a subordinate to the Constitution and the laws of our country, if they don't understand that, then they may well be, I think, disqualified as a legitimate judge.

BLOCK: Senator Sessions, when the president nominated Sonia Sotomayor last time around, he talked about empathy as one of the qualities he looked for in a justice. Now, you had a real problem with what you called the empathy standard. The president now has used the language of wanting a justice with a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of American people. And I'm curious how you feel about that criteria and the daily lives of Americans.

Sen. SESSIONS: I would be uneasy about that. I don't think it's much different than the empathy standard. And Justice Sotomayor said she didn't follow the empathy standard. She didn't think it was a good, sound, legal standard and many other President Obama's nominees have also rejected that as a legitimate basis for interpreting law.

BLOCK: Senator Sessions, can you rule out definitively rule out a filibuster on whoever the president nominates?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, you know, we had a great discussion, a lot of debate over Justice Sotomayor and she got an up or down vote. Although I would note that President Obama, for example, filibustered the nomination of Justice Alito, which and I thought he was a fabulous nominee. Brilliant, accomplished, proven judge. So I will say that under certain circumstances, it's possible to have a filibuster, but generally a nominee should get an up or down vote.

BLOCK: And if there were to be an up or down vote, do you see any problem with the timetable that the White House wants, which is to have a vote by August, so the new justice can be ready for the fall session?

Sen. SESSIONS: I told the president I thought that that was reasonable and we would try to work to that. It's also quite possible, for example, that new discoveries might come up, document problems might occur, new controversies arise. But normally I think that's a, I would say that's a reasonable schedule.

BLOCK: Well, Senator Sessions, thanks very much for talking with us.

Sen. SESSIONS: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

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