GOP Fires Filibuster Warning Shot On Court Nominee
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
President Obama has yet to nominate his next choice for the Supreme Court, but it's never too early to talk about how that nominee will be received. Republicans have been reluctant to consider the president's nominees for lower federal courts. And that's leading to questions about whether they'll let the Supreme Court choice come up for a vote. Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA: The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, voted against President Obama's first appointee to the Supreme Court last year, now Associate Justice Sonia Sodomayor. This week on the Senate floor, McConnell seemed to imply the president could do better on his next pick for that court.
MITCH MCCONNELL: We're hopeful that this time around the president will select someone with extensive real world legal experience and a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law.
WELNA: The leader of Senate Republicans warned they would, in his words, diligently review the record of the next nominee. That prompted a tart response from Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He urged the president to choose the most qualified candidate and ignore threats of a filibuster.
ARLEN SPECTER: As divisive as the Senate has become and as partisan and as gridlocked as the Senate has become, I believe that there are 60 votes in this chamber to reject the concept of a filibuster.
WELNA: Like Specter, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch sits on the judiciary committee, which will screen the president's nominee. Hatch says he prefers not taking the unprecedented step of actually blocking a Supreme Court nominee with a filibuster. But...
ORRIN HATCH: It would be easy to under very stringent circumstances agree to filibuster. But it would have to be a really awful case.
WELNA: Such as, Hatch says, the president's pending choice for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Berkley Law Professor Goodman Liu.
HATCH: Liu has made so many activist statements that, you know, I don't care whether you're a liberal or a conservative activist, you should not be on the courts, the federal courts.
WELNA: Liu is to have his twice-postponed confirmation hearing today. Texas Republican John Cornyn, who's also on the Judiciary Committee, says it could be the preview of a coming Supreme Court nomination battle.
JOHN CORNYN: That will, I'm sure, play into the larger narrative about qualifications, which I welcome. I'm glad that we're having this opportunity again to remind people about the limits of the power of the federal government. Because there doesn't seem to me to be much awareness on the part of the federal government that there are any limits.
WELNA: President Obama has invited both Minority Leader McConnell and the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions, to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy at the White House next Wednesday. Sessions says how things go from there will depend on whom the president nominates.
JEFF SESSIONS: It's in his hands. If he nominates a person that's perceived as not being committed to following the law as written, then I think the nominee will have trouble.
WELNA: Such warnings may not hold much sway if the president chooses to have a high profile election year fight over the nomination, according to the University of Connecticut's David Yalof.
DAVID YALOF: On the other hand, should the administration decide that this is not a high priority and they want a quick and clean appointment process that doesn't take up resources, then they're going to have take seriously what Senate Republicans tell them in terms of the resistance they'll face.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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