Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GOP Leaders Seek to Slow Debate of a Supreme Court Nominee

May 13, 2009 – 1:34 p.m.
By Seth Stern, CQ Staff

Senate Republican leaders emerged from a meeting with President Obama Wednesday and immediately began laying the groundwork for opposing Democratic efforts to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed before the August recess.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the average length of time between the announcement of a nominee and a confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee is 60 days, and he would like to see that precedent followed when Obama selects a nominee to replace Associate Justice David H. Souter .

Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, said he opposed operating under a false sense of urgency, saying “there’s plenty of time” to get Souter’s successor in place before the court’s new term begins in October.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he hopes to move “as quickly as we can” but said he wanted “no arbitrary deadlines” such as a 60-day window.

Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, added, “We’ll work out a decent schedule. Let’s get the nominee first.”

Conservatives would like to see the process delayed until after the summer recess, which begins Aug. 10 for the Senate.

“If Sen. Reid still has the votes for confirmation after the senators face their constituents in August, no one can complain that the process wasn’t fair,” Curt Levey, a leading conservative activist on judicial nominees, said Wednesday.

Democrats would prefer to avoid having a nominee left hanging during the monthlong recess.

If Obama announces his choice next week, it would be logistically possible for Leahy and Reid to schedule a confirmation hearing, a committee vote and a floor vote before Aug. 10 and still meet the 60-day window. But if Obama waits much longer, such a limit would make it difficult to confirm a nominee before the August recess.

Senators said Obama did not give them a date when a nominee might be announced. “He indicated it wasn’t imminent,” Sessions said.

Asked when he expected an announcement, Reid said only, “Soon.”

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