Leahy, Hatch Telegraph Supreme Court Battle

Posted May 3, 2009 at 10:55am

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Sunday foreshadowed the upcoming fight over President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, with Leahy advocating for a justice with “real life experiences— and Hatch cautioning against an “activist” judge.Even as the two members of the Judiciary Committee engaged in a collegial debate on ABC’s “This Week,— the battle lines were being drawn over Obama’s first pick to the high court. Obama said he would like to have a new Supreme Court justice in place by Oct. 1 to replace Justice David Souter, who is retiring in June.Hatch signaled that if Obama taps a center-left justice like Souter, he could avoid a partisan Senate battle. But Hatch, the senior Republican on Judiciary, voiced concern about the type of justice Obama has suggested he may choose.“If he’s saying he wants to pick people who would take sides — he’s also said a judge has to be a person of empathy — what does that mean?— Hatch said. “Usually that’s a code word for an activist judge. But he’s also said he’s going to select judges on the basis of the personal politics, their personal preferences. Now, those are all code words for an activist judge who’s going to be a partisan on the bench.—Hatch also said he would not seek a waiver to serve as the ranking member on Judiciary in the wake of Sen. Arlen Specter’s (Pa.) defection to the Democratic Party. Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, is currently barred by Conference term limits from serving again as the committee’s top Republican.Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wants the job, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), now ranking member on the Finance Committee, is the more senior Judiciary Republican and could choose to relinquish the Finance slot and take it. Grassley had been lobbying his colleagues to install Hatch as the interim Judiciary ranking member through 2011. Under his plan, Grassley would then move from the top Finance job into the Judiciary post.“I know that [Sessions] and Sen. Grassley are trying to work out something,— Hatch said.Leahy said he has every intention of meeting Obama’s deadline of confirming a new justice by Oct. 1, the beginning of the high court’s next term. He declined to share specifics on his conversations with Obama on a court replacement, other than to say he has urged him to confer with Democratic and Republican Senate leaders. Leahy indicated he supports Obama’s previously stated preference for a Supreme Court justice who brings “empathy— to bear on his decisions.“I want first and foremost somebody who believes in equal justice under law. That’s equal justice for all, whether they’re liberals or conservatives, Democrats, Republicans or whatever. And I think that’s what he’s going to look for,— Leahy told CNN’s John King this morning, prior to his appearance with Hatch on “This Week.— “I don’t want to see an ideologue … of either the right or the left, and I don’t think we’re going to have one,— Leahy said.Leahy vowed to work closely with whomever the Republicans promote to avoid the kind of partisan warfare that he and many of his Senate Democratic colleagues engaged in over President George W. Bush’s two high court nominees. Leahy voted for Chief Justice John Roberts, but against Justice Samuel Alito. Obama, then a Senator, voted against both.“I can work with any one of— the Republicans who become ranking member on Judiciary, Leahy said. “We’re longtime friends. We’ll work out things.—