President Barack Obama said he will announce a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens by next month and that he’ll seek a candidate who values individual rights and privacy when ruling on cases.
Obama said he’s confident the nomination will go through the Senate confirmation process in time to have Stevens’s successor in place when the court begins its next term in October.
The president, repeating the stand of his predecessors, said he won’t have any “litmus tests” on abortion rights.
“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,” he said. “That’s going to be something that’s very important to me.”
Obama discussed the high court vacancy at the White House today with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee, and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the panel. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also attended the Oval Office meeting. They will be at the forefront of the confirmation process.
Reid said afterward that “there was a really good tone set” during the session. He and Leahy said they have suggested names for potential justices to the president while declining to name anyone publicly. They said no individuals were discussed in the meeting.
Talking With Candidates
Stevens, 90, announced April 9 that he will retire at the end of the court’s term this summer. The president already has begun talking with and vetting potential nominees for the high court, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.
Obama said whoever replaces Stevens will have “some tough shoes to fill.”
The Supreme Court term begins on the first Monday in October. Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter on May 26 last year and she was confirmed Aug. 6.
“We are certainly going to meet that deadline” and may accelerate it “a little bit” to give the Senate more time, Obama said today.
Sotomayor had a “smooth, civil, thoughtful nomination and confirmation process,” Obama said, and he hopes for the “exact same thing this time.”
Sessions said he told Obama that he believes Congress can move fairly quickly once a nominee is named, but that “speed for the sake of speed is not good” because it can yield more tension between lawmakers. Sessions also told reporters after the meeting that he can’t rule out that “controversy could break out and slow things down.”
Republicans are signaling opposition to anyone who they see as too likely to find rights in the Constitution that weren’t intended when it was written.
“I think there’s an honest and legitimate disagreement in this country about the role of a judge,” Sessions said after the meeting. He said the key question is “to what degree do they feel that they’re not tethered to the plain meaning of the words, and that they have the ability to effectuate results that they’d like to see.”
Leahy said he wants Obama to choose someone who will help change the current makeup of the court, which he called “a very, very activist, conservative activist Supreme Court” that makes many decisions with a one-vote margin.
“I think this does not reflect the American people, but reflects more of a partisan agenda,” Leahy said.
Gibbs said the president’s advisers have been providing him with expanded lists of potential court picks that reflect diverse backgrounds.
Obama said April 9 he is looking for a nominee who not only has sound judgment and is dedicated to the rule of law, but also for someone who has “a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”
The nominee also must understand that in a democracy, “the powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” he said.
Leading candidates include U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appellate judges Diane Wood in Chicago and Merrick Garland in Washington. All were considered for the Supreme Court vacancy Obama filled last year with Sotomayor.
Other potential court nominees include federal appellate judge Sidney Thomas; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm; former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears; Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow; and Judge Ann Williams of the 7th Circuit in Chicago.