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.
Conservatives would like to see the process to be delayed until after the summer recess, which begins Aug. 10 for the Senate.
Democrats would prefer as to avoid having a nominee left hanging during the monthlong recess.
There goes the credibility of the Republicans. No doubt they would have had immense difficulty doing anything outside of slightly slowing down Barack Obama's pick to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. While they could attempt a filibuster, it's hard to see where they would get 41 votes to sustain such a nearly unprecedented tactic.
But coming out against the President's nominee even before that nominee has been named smacks of knee-jerked naysaying -- and totally blows any shot, however slim (and we're talking extremely thin), that the Republicans could have successfully blocked the nomination by arguing the merits (not that the merits would be on their side, of course). If the Republicans want to delay approval of any nominee, how can they legitimately argue against a particular nominee?
Earlier this week I noted how 23 years ago the Senate Judiciary Committee, then controlled by the Republicans, rejected the incoming ranking member on the panel, GOP Senator Jeff Sessions, for a federal judgeship due to racial insensitivities. The good folks over at TPM have dug up some more on Sessions background in the form of this CBS News report from two decades ago:
As noted by Bob Schieffer in the report above, the rejection of Sessions was an historic moment, marking only the second time in 49 years that the Senate Judiciary Committee formally voted down a nominee for the federal bench. What made the move even more noteworthy was that it came at a time when the Republicans, not the opposition Democrats, were in control of the panel. Indeed, two Republican Senators (Arlen Specter and Charles Mathias), as well as conservative Alabama Democratic Senator Howell Hefflin, opposed Sessions in committee.
This is the man the Republicans have chosen to lead their efforts in evaluating and potentially (if not likely) opposing the President's Supreme Court nominee: A man even the Republican Party found too radical two decades ago. An interesting move, to say the least, for a party trying to convince the nation that it hasn't gone off the ideological deep end.
Reading through an article in The Hill suggesting that incoming ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Jeff Sessions, who himself was rejected by a Republican-led iteration of the panel 23 years ago, is opposed to filibusters of judicial nominations on the basis of ideology, it's hard to tell if this is something Democrats can hold the Alabama Republican to or if it's just posturing before Republicans declare President Obama's nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Souter -- whoever the pick should be -- too liberal to be seated on the bench. (It's worth noting that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin says that eight Republican Senators have pledged to him that they would not mount a filibuster, for whatever that's worth.)
But one thing I can tell is that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who previously served as the top Republican on the panel, is simply not telling the truth about the GOP's history of filibustering Supreme Court nominees.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also called for a strict constructionist -- "somebody who will interpret the laws rather than make them" -- and said that he also believes a filibuster can be avoided.
"Republicans have never filibustered a Supreme Court nominee, and I don't think we're going to start now," he said. [emphasis added]
Hatch's statement is just not backed up by the facts. Here's The Washington Post debunking Hatch four years ago:
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a Senate speech last week, "The crisis created by the unprecedented use of filibusters to defeat judicial nominations must be solved."
Such claims, however, are at odds with the record of the successful 1968 GOP-led filibuster against President Lyndon B. Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas to be chief justice of the United States. "Fortas Debate Opens with a Filibuster," a Page One Washington Post story declared on Sept. 26, 1968. It said, "A full-dress Republican-led filibuster broke out in the Senate yesterday against a motion to call up the nomination of Justice Abe Fortas for Chief Justice."
Regardless of how much Republicans try to obfuscate, the fact remains that their hands are not clean, having launched the first ever filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. This isn't to say that this fact should provide them precedent to up their expected opposition to whomever President Obama picks for the Court to a full-on filibuster. But let this all serve as a clear indication that Senate Republicans aren't going to be wedded to the truth in their efforts to oppose the President in this matter.
According to Politico, Sen. Orrin Hatch expects President Obama to reveal his pick to replace David Souter by the end of the week or over the weekend.
After talking to President Barack Obama on the phone today, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch says he believes the White House will move swiftly on its Supreme Court nominee, perhaps making an announcement by the end of this week.
Obama made no timing commitments to the Utah Republican, but the senator, who has been in the middle of several pitched Supreme Court battles, said: "I'd be surprised if it went beyond this week. ... I would think by the end of this week or over the weekend, he'll nominate somebody. I'm sure they've discussed this internally, back and forth for months now."
The AP has its own version of the story, which focuses instead on Hatch's expectations that the pick would not be out of the mainstream:
President Barack Obama has told a leading Senate Republican he would not nominate a radical or extremist to the Supreme Court. [...]
The Utah Republican said there could be a major Senate fight if Obama "nominates someone contrary to what he told me." But Hatch said he takes the president at his word.
No, Senator, putting radical ideologues on the court is what conservatives do.
It's amazing to me that no matter how many elections these guys lose, no matter how many of their leaders fall from grace and no matter how many examples of the failure of their ideology there are, they still maintain it's the left that's outside the mainstream.
If this doesn't sum up the current status of the Republican party, I don't know what would: The Senate GOP has chosen as its top member on the Judiciary Committee a hard right conservative rejected by the panel -- then in the hands of the Republicans -- for a federal judgeship two decades ago on account of racially tinged remarks. Here's The Hill with the scoop.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) will take over the ranking member position on the Senate Judiciary Committee after striking a deal with his more senior colleagues over the weekend, sources confirm to The Hill.
The move is likely to please conservative organizations around Washington who are gearing up for a fight over the eventual nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The departure of Specter, who had long been one of the leading GOP voices on judicial appointees, had robbed the Republican conference of an obvious spokesman.
Here's the AP on Senator Jeff Sessions' previous go round with the Judiciary Committee.
Sessions would bring a unique perspective to the committee. Two decades ago, the Senate rejected his nomination as a U.S. district judge by President Ronald Reagan over allegations that his career as a lawyer and U.S. attorney in Alabama showed a pattern of being racially insensitive. Ironically, it was Specter who helped seal his defeat by joining with Democratic opposition.
Twenty three years ago, Senate Republicans believed that Sessions was too "racially insensitive" to serve as a federal judge -- but now they want him to be their leader in determining who should and should not be on the bench, including the Supreme Court? For a party trying to convince the nation that it hasn't veered off the far right fringe of our politics, out of the mainstream, this certainly appears to be an odd move.