Senate GOP leaders to meet with Obama on Supreme Court nominee process

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010; A13

Senate Republicans will have a chance this week to directly confront President Obama on his vision for reshaping the nation's courts.

The president is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss who should fill the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens, who has announced his plans to retire at the end of the Supreme Court's current term. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will also attend the meeting.

Republicans have threatened to filibuster any nominee who they view as a "judicial activist." And some Democrats are offering their own advice to Obama, arguing that the president should tap a nominee who is not currently in the judiciary because every member of the current court was once a federal appeals court judge. Leahy has emphasized the importance of going outside "the judicial monastery."

Former president Bill Clinton said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that "some of the best justices in the Supreme Court in history have been non-judges."

Ending the filibuster?

The Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the history of the filibuster, as Democratic lawmakers look for ways to limit a parliamentary tactic that they think the GOP has abused over the past 15 months. The committee, chaired by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), expects this to be the first of what are likely to be several hearings on the issue.

A group of academics and experts -- including Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, and Stanley Bach, a retired senior specialist in Senate procedures with the Congressional Research Service -- will speak about the use of the filibuster over time.

No matter what the Democrats propose, it would be difficult to dump the filibuster because changing the rules of the Senate requires 67 votes, and the Democrats control only 59 seats.

The move comes as Senate Democrats plan to spend much of the week trying to push through a group of long-stalled judicial and executive branch nominees.

No longer the maverick?

Groups that favor allowing illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship heaped criticism Monday on Sen. John McCain (R.), who joined fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) in backing a measure that would add National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in their state, construct double- and triple-layer fencing along the border and provide additional funding for a number of reforms designed to limit illegal immigration.

America's Voice, a group that supports giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, accused McCain, who is facing an August primary challenge from conservative former congressman J.D. Hayworth, of "fighting for his political life" instead of his principles.

But McCain, who was once a champion of creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, said he has long called for greater border enforcement. Lawmakers in both parties in Arizona have focused on the issue since the slaying of a rancher last month in which an illegal immigrant is the suspected gunman.

"Many of the points included in the action plan are issues Senator Kyl and I have worked on together for many years but are still not complete due to a lack of management by the Department of Homeland Security or a lack of funding by the federal government," McCain said. "This is unacceptable and fundamentally unfair to many of those living along the southern border."

The agenda

The Senate will continue debating financial regulatory reform, although no vote on the measure is expected this week. The House will take up long-stalled legislation to give Washington, D.C., a voting member in the House of Representatives.

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