Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
President Barack Obama met with the top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate on Wednesday to discuss the formal process of appointing the next justice to the Supreme Court when Justice John Paul Stevens retires later this year.
Before the Oval Office meeting began, Obama said that he plans to nominate Stevens' successor before the end of May, and hoped that person would be confirmed by the Senate in time to begin the court's next session in October.
He also waded into the politically fraught issue of abortion rights when a reporter asked if he would nominate someone "who did not support a woman's right to choose."
In response, the president said that he does not have "litmus tests around any of these issues," but he did specify that he would want his nominee to recognize rights of individuals, including women.
"I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction," he said. "Obviously, this has been a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time."
He added, "I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights. And that's going to be something that's very important to me because I think part of what our core . . . constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity and women are not exempt from that."
Following the meeting, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke generally about the qualities he hoped the nominee would possess, including fidelity to the law, but also aired his extreme displeasure with the current make-up of the Supreme Court.
"We have right now a very, very activist, conservative activist, Supreme Court," Leahy said. "I think this does not reflect the American people but reflects more of a partisan agenda. I would hope that the president's nominee can get us back away from that."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was also in the meeting, said that while no potential nominees were discussed by name, he hoped the president would not appoint a sitting judge, but would instead choose a man or woman, including possibly a politician, who would bring a different set of life experiences to the court.
He also assured the president that the nominee would get a timely, fair hearing in the Senate. "The Senate's reputation's on the line here," he said. "Everyone recognizes how important this is."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, did not talk to reporters after the meeting, but did release a joint statement committing to review any nominee "diligently and respectfully," but also saying they would use a thorough process and not "a rush to judgment."
, Harry Reid
, Mitch McConnell
, Patrick Leahy
, President Obama
, Supreme Court nominee
, Womens rights