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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.

By Paul Volpe  |  May 29, 2009; 2:19 PM ET
Categories:  Senate , Supreme Court  
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leahy had better take charge and have this over by the timeline laid out .it can and should be finished by august 7.

Posted by: donaldtucker | May 29, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are going to review all 3000 of Sotomayor's rulings? Ha Ha. As long as we don't have to hear about Coke cans and hair.

Posted by: georgepwebster1 | May 29, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Advice to Senator Sessions: the longer you drag this out, the greater the number of opportunities for your cohorts to assassinate each other and alienate vast swaths of the electorate. Today alone, a "non-news" day, I've watch Newt call Judge Sotomayor a racist and un-American, Liddy call her a pre-menstrual witch and poor Cornyn futilely attempt to silence his party.

Posted by: abqcleve | May 29, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Why do we care about anything the Republican minority says about this. Let's get the confirmation hearings revved up and over with. The Rebublican'ts want to make this a referendum on something they haven't even been able to define yet. And, who cares? Playground rules. Losers can't be choosers.

Posted by: roboturkey | May 29, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

What is the rush? Once confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will be a member of the Court for the rest of her life. Whats another month or two?

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | May 29, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Just another anti-social Republican stall tactic. There are other Justice Department and judicial nominees who are being held up for no good reason -- other than spite.

There is no need for a delay so much longer than W's nominees took, and I sincerely hope that Sen. Leahy will point out to Sen. Sessions, himself a rejected judicial candidate, that the Republicans are no longer in control. I also hope that we can get a Senate Majority Leader who doesn't suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

Posted by: edallan | May 29, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Frist of all, she is nothing but a typical in house tenured judge, overweight, with a puddgy face, who only with more appointments to the court under Obama, will have any infulence at all. Having thrown a "Tinsel Fit" over her nomination, the Democrats have gushed and painted her as a paragon of virtue and wisdom, befitting the Oracle at Delphi, and they (the Oracles) were under the spell of smells and fumes eminating from rock fissures, when they gave their pronouncements. Come to think of it, sounds just like goings on in current day Washington doesn't it, right down to the political smell!

Posted by: jamesyankeejim | May 29, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Let me recall, wasn't it November 2008 when Democrats won firm control of the House, Senate and elected a President/Vice President? Ok Senator Leahy let's get this job done NOW!!! Senator Sessions go have a bar-b-que with Rush, Newt and Glenn Beck. Maybe they'll burn a cross for your entertainment.

Posted by: dwatson1 | June 1, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

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