Senate Awaits Bush High Court Nominee

The person President Bush nominates to succeed Justice O'Connor must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Democrats warn there could be a major battle if they find that nominee objectionable. Senators on both sides of the aisle are calling for harmony, but girding for a showdown.

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And whomever the president nominates to succeed Justice O'Connor, of course, will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Democrats warn there could be a major battle if they find the nominee objectionable. Senators on both sides are calling for harmony, but also girding for battle. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee happened to be in his home state of Vermont yesterday when news came of Justice O'Connor's retirement. Patrick Leahy held a news conference there and proclaimed his wish for a new justice who, like O'Connor, could be a fulcrum in the balance of the court.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I cannot think of a more important judicial nomination--at least none occurs--springs immediately to mind--because the court has been so evenly balanced, and I think a Justice Kennedy or a Justice O'Connor, because they're often the swing vote, it's a very, very important nomination.

WELNA: Another Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, New York's Charles Schumer, held a news conference here at the Capitol and had this advice for President Bush.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): We hope the president chooses someone thoughtful, mainstream, pragmatic--someone just like Sandra Day O'Connor. In short, we should replace Sandra Day O'Connor with a consensus candidate, not an ideologue.

WELNA: Schumer proposed that the president meet face to face with Senate leaders to exchange and discuss possible names for a new associate justice. But the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said he'd just as soon forgo such consultation.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): I'm not gonna become involved in the replacement. That's the president's prerogative. I'm gonna leave it to him.

WELNA: Specter said he thought a nominee could be approved by October when the court's new term begins, but Schumer countered there's no hurry since O'Connor says she won't step down until a new justice is confirmed. Democrats would like a thorough vetting of any nominee, but Judiciary panel member and Texas Republican John Cornyn, who is himself considered a contender for the high court, warned on the Senate floor that politics must be kept out of the confirmation process.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): Whoever the nominee is, the Senate should focus our attention on judicial qualifications, not on personal political beliefs. We should engage in a respectful and honest inquiry, not partisan political attacks.

WELNA: Cornyn has pushed for eliminating judicial filibusters altogether, a move known as the nuclear option. Virginia Republican John Warner led a group that defused such a showdown in May, although yesterday he warned that nuclear option's still on the table.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): But let's hope that we don't turn to the nuclear option in this process, for if we did and that were the process by which this body gave advice and consent on that Supreme Court justice, that justice would be tattooed with the nuclear option for the rest of his or her life on that court.

WELNA: Warner urged the president in choosing a nominee that he be, as he put it, a uniter, not a divider. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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