Leahy Sets a Date; GOP Jeers

Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:37pm

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) came to the floor Tuesday and kicked off his first stint overseeing a Supreme Court nomination by announcing that Sonia Sotomayor would appear before his panel on July 13.

But minutes after Leahy left the floor, Republican groans consumed the chamber as GOP Senators charged that Sotomayor’s lengthy judicial history required more time for review.

“I’m disappointed that we are being rushed to complete this process,— Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) said. “I don’t think it’s a good way to begin the proceedings.—

Democrats maintained they took a page from the Republicans’ playbook in choosing the July 13 date, which is seven weeks after Sotomayor was picked by President Barack Obama to fill the seat being vacated by Justice David Souter.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Leahy pointed out, also appeared before the Judiciary Committee seven weeks after the former D.C. Circuit Court judge was nominated by President George W. Bush.

“If 48 days were sufficient to prepare for that hearing, in accordance with our agreement and the initial schedule, it is certainly adequate time to prepare for the confirmation hearing for Judge Sotomayor,— Leahy, who was the Judiciary ranking member in 2005, said in a floor speech Tuesday.

But Republicans argued that Sotomayor’s record is much more extensive than Roberts’ and requires more time for review.

“Remember that she was involved in more than 10 times as many cases as Justice Roberts,— Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters. “Whether or not we’re going to be able to complete that work in advance of that time period in order to have the hearing at that time is not yet known.—

As Republicans complained about the timeline, discussions turned to whether the GOP would employ a host of procedural roadblocks to protest.

Senate minorities of both parties have successfully used the rules to shut down committee action throughout the chamber. And within the Judiciary Committee, the minority could boycott meetings and deny the majority a quorum.

“I’ve been told, at least on my subcommittee, no one’s going to participate in meetings on anything,— Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested on the floor. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. I hope it isn’t.—

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said there are no plans to shut down the committee at this time, but he noted “there are other tools available. … I hope persuasion will work.—

Judiciary Republicans were successful in getting a rare second hearing for federal court nominee David Hamilton earlier this year after charging that the committee was moving too quickly. GOP committee members again last month used committee rules to their advantage to postpone voting on a trio of Obama administration nominees, including Hamilton. The nominees were eventually voted on, but a week later than the committee had planned to consider them.

Sessions said he learned of the Sotomayor hearing date from news reports. He said he thought he and Leahy would meet one more time before the chairman announced a hearing date.

The Republican demurred on whether his Conference would use such procedural tactics to stall Democrats’ agenda on the committee, but he said he would continue to work with Leahy to try to hatch a deal.

Sessions noted that four of his seven Republican colleagues on Judiciary are also deeply involved in the health care debate, and that with the Senate’s stacked legislative agenda this summer, extra time for Supreme Court vetting is needed.

“We’ve had a good process so far. I’ve committed to getting this process over by October, like the president asked,— Sessions said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll just proceed along and see how this thing goes.—