Republicans say Obama's Supreme Court pick must be mainstream

By Matthew DeLong
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Republican leaders declined to rule out a filibuster of President Obama's nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, if they think the pick falls outside the judicial mainstream.

While calling each of the most commonly mentioned candidates to succeed Stevens "nominally qualified," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) would not take the filibuster off the table. But he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that it is "unlikely" Republicans will use the procedural move to block the nominee except under "extraordinary circumstances."

Among those widely believed to be under consideration for the nomination are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Stevens announced Friday that he plans to retire at the end of the court's current term. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), predicted Sunday that Obama's nominee will be confirmed before the new court session begins in the fall.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) didn't rule out a filibuster if the president chooses someone from "the fringe instead of the middle" or someone who would "apply their feelings" instead of the law. Asked if he would support a filibuster of any of the potential nominees said to be on Obama's shortlist, Alexander said on "Fox News Sunday" that he is "not about to start picking nominees I would reject before the president even makes one." He said he believes that qualified nominees should receive an up-or-down vote, pointing to his vote to confirm Obama's first choice for the high court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Appearing opposite Kyl, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the chances of a GOP filibuster are "tiny" because it is "just about a certainty that the president will nominate someone in the mainstream." Schumer criticized Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who was nominated by President George W. Bush, for trying to move the court "very far to the right." Schumer said that he would like the new justice "to be one of five, not one of four" on split decisions, and that the nominee should be someone, like Stevens, "who would be quite persuasive to the other justices."

The Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), said that whether the GOP filibusters Obama's eventual nominee is up to the president. Echoing his Republican colleagues, Sessions warned that if the pick does not fall within the mainstream, "every power should be utilized to protect the Constitution."

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