July 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Begins Court Vetting

President Seeks Senate Input

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss the looming Supreme Court vacancy. Afterward, he called the session “constructive.”

It’s official: President Barack Obama has moved the Supreme Court nomination process to the top of his priority list, packing his schedule with phone calls to key Senators and informal meetings with potential nominees in the lead-up to announcing his final selection in the next few weeks.

A bipartisan meeting with Senate leaders on Wednesday set the tone for how Obama plans to proceed: quickly, thoroughly and with Republican involvement. And the president is exuding increasing confidence that by the August recess he will be able to fill the seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.

“Last time the nomination went up at the end of May. We are certainly going to meet that deadline, and we hope maybe we can accelerate it a little bit so that we have some additional time. But my hope is that we’re going to be able to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in time for the next session,” Obama said before Wednesday’s meeting.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) left the White House session saying the president conveyed “a really good tone” and told all participants to “just call him directly” with any suggestions for nominees.

The two Republicans in the meeting, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), issued a joint statement afterward vowing to treat Obama’s candidate for the high court “fairly” but cautioned him against letting politics factor into his decision. Republicans have made it clear that they want Obama to choose a moderate to replace the liberal Stevens.

“A Supreme Court justice must not be a rubberstamp or policy arm for any Administration,” they said.

Sessions later called the meeting “constructive” and said Obama cited last year’s high court nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as an example of a positive confirmation process. The president “thanked us for the way we did that last year and said he thought that was a good hearing,” Sessions said.

Obama did not give Senators a specific date for announcing his selection, although he said he “hoped to have the nomination to us a little earlier than he did last year,” Sessions said. Obama announced Sotomayor’s nomination on May 26 last year.

The timing could give Obama some trouble from Republicans who want to ensure that sufficient time is spent vetting the nominee. Republicans complained mightily during Sotomayor’s nomination that Democrats were trying to rush the confirmation process.

“Speed for speed’s sake is not good. We want to approach the process responsibly and make sure you have the time to do it right,” one Senate GOP aide said.

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