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Sunday, April 11, 2010

GOP Won't Rule Out SCOTUS Nominee Filibuster

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Republicans Cautious On U.S. Supreme Court Filibuster But Won't Rule It Out

With no SCOTUS nominee to scrutinize, Republicans were on the defensive Sunday over the possible use of a filibuster against President Barack Obama’s upcoming Supreme Court pick – saying they wouldn’t go nuclear unless they really, really had to.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, didn't rule out using the filibuster during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press," saying he would require Democrats to muster 60 votes only if the White House tapped someone like Goodwin Liu, a liberal nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Will there be "a big fight?" host David Gregory asked?

"The answer to that is in the president's hands," said Sessions. "If we have a nominee that evidences a philosophy of judges know best... then we are going to have a big fight about that because the American people don't want that."

Sessions added that "every power should be utilized to protect the Constitution" if Obama chose a nominee "outside the mainstream."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who laid down a marker on Friday for a quick nomination and confirmation, kept his foot on the accelerator, telling Gregory he wanted "a nomination very soon so we can wrap it up this summer."

Other Republicans kept open the possibility of a filibuster, but played down the likelihood the White House would actually nominate anyone so objectionable to conservatives.

Obama’s aides have narrowed their short list down to about ten names. None of the names known to be under consideration appear to be as controversial as Liu – and an administration official told POLITICO on Friday that the goal was to tap someone who was “confirmable.”

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a key conservative on the committee, said the four most mentioned potential Obama seemed acceptable on the surface and wouldn't likely be filibustered.

Jake Tapper, host of ABC’s "This Week," asked Kyl what he thought of potential nominees Elena Kagan, Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Janet Napolitano, who have all been listed in press accounts as potential successors to Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced his retirement on Friday.

"They are all nominally qualified," said Kyl, who voted against Sonia Sotomayor for the high court last year.

"The question, I think, to present is, 'Do candidates like this approach judging on the basis of each case presenting its unique facts of law... rather than with a judge coming to the bench with an ideological position?' ‘’

"It is unlikely that there will be a filibuster unless it’s an extraordinary circumstance," Kyl said, adding that "President Obama himself attempted to filibuster Justice [Samuel] Alito."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), appearing with Kyl, said he was sure Obama would pick someone in the "mainstream" – dismissing the likelihood of a filibuster as “tiny” -- but emphasized the need to counterbalance an increasingly conservative high court.

Schumer, who opposed the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, suggested Roberts misled senators by claiming he would respect existing precedent.

"In my view at least, Justice Roberts has tried to move the court very far to the right, much farther than we envisioned," said Schumer, adding that Stevens, who dissented bitterly in several recent cases, agreed.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking earlier on CNN, predicted that Obama would pick a "liberal" and suggested a nomination fight could energize the party’s conservative base.

A few minutes into a discussion about the court pick, "Meet the Press" host Gregory made a startling admission.

Garland, a federal judge reportedly being considered by Obama, performed the wedding ceremony for Gregory and wife Beth Wilkinson, a prominent corporate lawyer who once worked as a prosecutor under Garland’s supervision.

Wilkinson, Gregory said during his questioning of Sessions, "worked for [Garland] at the Justice Department. He also performed our wedding ceremony."

Wilkinson became an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1991, serving under Garland as part of the team that prosecuted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. She later served as Fannie Mae's executive vice president and is now a white collar criminal defense attorney in the Washington office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Sources: Politico, Meet The Press, MSNBC

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