Sessions to Take Top Judiciary GOP Slot
By Ben Pershing
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions will take over the top Republican slot on the Judiciary Committee for the remainder of the 111th Congress, according to GOP aides, putting him in a high-profile post as the panel gears up for President Obama's first Supreme Court nomination.
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) defected to the Democratic Party last week, leaving the ranking Judiciary position vacant only days before Justice David Souter announced that he would leave the Supreme Court this summer. Specter's replacement has been the subject of much speculation in the ensuing days, with many on the right pushing for Sessions to get the job because of his conservative record.
But Sessions' ascent was not assured, because he is actually fourth on the committee's GOP seniority roster and Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), two slots above him, was also said to be interested. Grassley currently has his hands full as the top Republican on the Finance Committee, so Sessions and Grassley have struck a deal, according to sources -- Sessions will hold the Judiciary slot until the end of this Congress, and then in 2011 he will move over to take the top Republican position on the Budget Committee, and Grassley will take the Judiciary post.
Sessions' move to the top post, which was first reported by The Hill, must be approved by Judiciary Republicans and then the full GOP conference before it is official. The deal gives Sessions the opportunity to be in the spotlight when Judiciary considers whomever Obama nominates to replace Souter. That will likely please conservative groups, who are a bit wary of Grassley, as they were with the moderate Specter.
Before he was elected to the Senate in 1996, Sessions spent a dozen years as a U.S. Attorney and then a term as Alabama's attorney general. Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship in 1985, but his nomination was blocked in the Judiciary Committee and never made it to the Senate floor.
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