by Jonathan Singer, Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 02:44:25 PM EDT
The Associated Press wonders.
The case of the missing law clerks is this spring's most-watched mystery at the Supreme Court.
[E]ight justices are known to have hired the four law clerks who will work with them in the Supreme Court term that begins in October. Souter appears to be the lone holdout.
Officials at the highest levels of government have taken notice, while the court's press corps is consumed with anxiety.
Why does this matter? Under the scenario that counts, Souter, 69, would not be hiring clerks because he isn't planning to be in Washington in the fall. A retirement would give President Barack Obama his first chance to nominate a justice and the next few months would bring Senate confirmation hearings.
The folks at First Read note that "Souter is usually the last of the justices to hire law clerks for the coming term," with slots being filled in March or April. So perhaps there is too much being read into this news (or, more precisely, lack thereof). On the other hand, March has since passed, as has most of April, and rumors continue to swirl. What's more, at least one senior Republican Senator seems to be doing all he can -- including floating the possibility of giving up one of the most powerful gavels in Congress -- to become ranking member of the committee that would hold confirmation hearings for Souter's replacement.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) is considering leaving his powerful post as senior Republican on the Finance Committee so that he can become the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel.
To avoid a dramatic shake-up, Grassley is hoping to strike a deal with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would allow him to serve out the next year and a half on Finance before moving to Judiciary.
The top GOP spot on the Judiciary Committee, best known for vetting Supreme Court justices, came open when Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) announced this week he would leave the Republican Party to become a Democrat.
Much of the major legislative action this Congress will flow through the Finance Committee -- including healthcare reform and any major tax bills -- so it's notable that Chuck Grassley is considering giving up his ranking status on the panel (even if he is calling such a move "very much a last resort"). While this move looks, at least in part, to be about Grassley only having the opportunity to serve as the top-ranking Republican on the Committee until the end of the Congress because of GOP caucus rules and wanting to retain a prominent role in the chamber, the fact remains that the longtime Republican Senator is considering giving up a key position on what has traditionally been one of the Senate's two most powerful panels in return for a key position on what traditionally has been one of the slightly less powerful panels.
This angling from Grassley speaks wonders in and of itself. But timed with the potential tea leaves from Souter, and it starts to look like something is in the works (or, at the least, Grassley thinks there might be something in the works). Then again, considering that the ranking status on the Judiciary committee would otherwise go to Jeff Sessions -- a man who was rejected by the panel more than 20 years ago when nominated by Ronald Reagan to serve as a federal judge -- perhaps Grassley just doesn't want to see the position slip into the wrong hands.