Sessions Suggests Confirmation Timeline Unrealistic
By Paul Kane
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee today pushed back against President Obama's call for a quick confirmation process that would be concluded by early August, warning that he did not think the committee would be in position to hold hearings until then.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in his first day back in Washington since the nomination was announced, said he had spoken briefly by phone with Sotomayor and expected to meet in person with her next week when she begins making the rounds for face-to-face meetings with key senators. He and Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who appear together on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, have not spoken about the process because Leahy has been traveling abroad during the week-long Memorial Day recess.
"I hope people will say, This is the way a hearing should be conducted," Sessions said.
He praised Sotomayor's legal background, from her Ivy League law school credentials to her time as a local prosecutor and 17 years on the federal bench in Manhattan, calling it a "good history" for a Supreme Court nominee. However, Sessions said that "voluminous record" posed a daunting challenge to the Judiciary Committee, which needs more than two months to conduct the full research into her career and the more than 3,000 rulings she has issued.
"I don't think that this should be rushed," he said. "I don't believe we can do this before August."
Obama and Senate Democrats have set mid-July as a tentative target for when hearings should occur, which would then leave two to three weeks for the committee to vote on her nomination and then a full Senate debate by the first week of August. The chamber is scheduled to shutter Aug. 7 for a five-week recess. If Leahy agrees to Sessions's timeline, hearings likely wouldn't be held until after Labor Day.
This is an expected role reversal from four years ago, when Chief Justice John Roberts was nominated in late July by a Republican president and the GOP controlled the Senate. Republicans such as Sessions and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) called for confirmation hearings during the August recess, after just four weeks, while Democrats demanded more time and called for more documents to be released on Roberts.
Once the hearings begin, Sessions said he will be most concerned with how the nominee explains her views on empathy and judges, an issue that Obama has promoted as a leading rationale for what he seeks in judges. "We need to know what that means. In my view that makes me uneasy. Laws is based on objective criteria. . . . Empathy, to me, seems to lead to bias," he said.
Rather than fixating on particular cases she has ruled on, Sessions said, he expects to probe broadly into issues about her outlook from the bench. One potential question: "Is your philosophy on judging one that allows you to advance a personal, moral, religious or political agenda?"
Sessions said he would not expect Sotomayor to answer questions about specific legal topics, such as abortion rights or national security matters, similar to the way Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito addressed them in their 2005 and 2006 confirmation hearings. If she has not ruled on a matter, as is the case with most areas of abortion law, she should not be expected to answer direct questions on her views about Roe v. Wade, Sessions said. He suggested, however, that she should be able to talk about the process she would use to reach a decision on that sort of topic.
Sessions also expects Republicans to have much less deference to the nominee than they did during the last Democratic nominations to the Supreme Court -- when Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer received 96 and 87 votes, respectively -- because of the path that the nomination fights have taken in the last 15 years. Sessions said Republicans are still upset that, while a senator, Obama voted to support a filibuster effort against Alito, one of just 25 senators to join that failed effort.
The Sotomayor nomination is one of two or three that he expects in the next four years. "We may be at a fork in the road," Sessions said.
May 29, 2009; 2:19 PM ET
Categories: Senate , Supreme Court
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