May 3rd, 2009
02:12 PM ET
9 years ago

Partisan lines harden over looming Obama court pick

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Leading Democrats and Republicans parted ways on the issue of President Barack Obama's looming Supreme Court pick Sunday, setting the stage for a potentially divisive Senate confirmation fight.

Republicans charged that Obama's stated desire to pick someone with "empathy and understanding" masked an intention to pick a judicial activist who would try to pull the high court significantly to the left. Democrats dismissed the GOP charge, arguing that Obama - a former constitutional law professor - would tap a candidate committed to equal justice and not use a high court opening to pursue a partisan political agenda.

Obama is currently considering possible replacements for Justice David Souter, who announced his intention Friday to retire at the end the Supreme Court's current term this summer. Souter, 69, is generally considered to be a member of the court's more liberal bloc.

The vacancy gives Obama his first Supreme Court appointment, and the first since President George W. Bush's picks of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 and Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. And it appears likely to underscore the ideological chasm between the two parties on the question of judicial philosophy.

"The key thing and the place where I think we draw the line is, is this an individual who will follow the Constitution and the law, or is this an individual who believes in making the law?" former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"If it's the latter, I think we should stand up and scream loud and hard," said Romney, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican, worried on ABC's "This Week" that Obama had indicated "that politics, preferences, personal preferences and feelings might take the place of being impartial and deciding cases based upon the law, not upon politics."

Hatch led the Senate Judiciary Committee when former President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer to the high court. He pointed to Obama's comments at the White House Friday, when the president stated he will "seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook."

"I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes," Obama said.

Hatch argued that words such as "empathy" are "code words for an activist judge, who is going to ... be partisan on the bench."

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, also on "This Week," responded that Obama "doesn't need to use code words. He speaks very plainly and very directly."

Obama "understands the court probably better than certainly any president in my lifetime," Leahy said. "And I know some of the names he's thinking of. They are all going to be extremely good, good people."

Obama is rumored to be considering, among others, federal appeals court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, argued on "Fox News Sunday" that Obama should have no litmus tests in choosing a nominee, particularly on the hot-button abortion issue.

"If people have actually taken positions, I think that that in and of itself prejudices them in the future," he said.

Granholm and Patrick ran for office as staunch defenders of abortion rights. Other potential choices have made public statements indicating a similar position. But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said it would be "hard to imagine someone, after 30 or 40 years of experience in the law, who hasn't taken a position on some issue."

"That's going to happen. ... We just need to make certain that person is using sound reasoning to reach that position and that they're fair in the way they approach it," Durbin told Fox.

Most Republicans seemed to accept that Obama would not choose a nominee inclined to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion.

"I have no illusions about President Obama appointing a conservative like Alito or Roberts and so forth," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, told CNN.

While Republicans and Democrats largely split on questions of ideology, there was some agreement on the desire to bring more gender and racial diversity to the high court.

"It would be my hope that he would choose someone with diversity," Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, said on NBC's Meet the Press.

"Women are underrepresented on the court. We (also) don't have a Hispanic. African-Americans are underrepresented."

Specter, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, also said that the president may want to break with recent tradition by choosing someone not currently serving on the federal bench.

"All of the justices now have been on the circuit courts of appeals and they have lives and experiences that are all very similar. ... It would be good to get people who know something besides wearing a black robe," Specter said.

Filed under: State of the Union
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Darth Vadik, CA

    Judicial activism?

    Let me see who of the 9 supreme court justices has always sided with businesses against the people? And who has actually looked at the constitution and ruled according to it?


    May 3, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  2. michaelam

    President Obama could nominate Jesus Christ to the bench and the Party of No would say, "No!"

    May 3, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  3. Darth Vadik, CA

    Like the GOP told us when Bush picked the court:

    -What? Do you expect a Republican to put a moderate or left leaning judge on the court?

    Well, isn't this poetic justice

    -What, do you expect Obama to put A right wing, religious zealot on the supreme court?

    May 3, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  4. Partisan idiot

    Of course, I didn't expect the president to propose a stimulus bill with a partisan political agenda...

    May 3, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  5. Stephen

    Mr. Romney, you lost your party's nomination for president. You have lived privileged and sheltered life, far removed from mainstream America. Please, shut the heck up and pay your taxes.

    May 3, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  6. John, Sacramento

    The stark attitude difference between the GOP & Demos are forever etched in our minds......The first GOP presidential debate with 11 white candidates on the stage......and no one else.....the last 2 supreme court appointees....ditto, ditto.......The GOP has managed to garner majority support amongst this group, which makes up about 30% of AMerica........Their almost complete disregard of every other ethnic group, as well as women in general, has been, and will continue to be their undoing.....unless and until they wise up and realize that our wonderful country has been built through good will and diversity, they will continue to be marginalized and ignored.

    May 3, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  7. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    I wish the shrieking GOPs would SHUT UP.... Why shouldn't Omaba pick a left-leaning judge? What do these idiots think the Bushes picked if not right-leaning judges. GOP: They're like a bunch of whiny little brats.

    May 3, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  8. dennisk

    Point A: Pres. Obama knows more about the U.S. Constitution and constitutional law than Romney and Hatch combined–times a thousand.
    Point B: GOP panties are all knotted because Obama will appoint a "liberal." Well, Sen. Shelby admits that Republican Presidents appointed conservatives, so hello hypocrisy! And besides, he would just be replacing one "liberal" (Souter) with another, so the balance of the court wouldn't change.
    Point C: Repubs will bellow and snort no matter who the President picks, because they have proven time and again that they are nothing but The Party of No.

    May 3, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. tony

    Didn't President Obama Say The Following;

    "Obama this week said he was looking for a person of intelligence, excellence, integrity, and "empathy."

    what is so scary about this if I might ask? Sounds like what anyone would want in a jurist. Not some Right Wing Corporatist Hyper Religious Nut!

    Relax Republicans, talking in codes, secret hand shakes, No jacket in The White House, His Wife Arms, Smiling Too much with other leaders, Meeting with 3rd world leaders and much more!

    May 3, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  10. The Mystery Nine

    In the case o"The Nine",nothing will ever change.They are bought and paid for by people you will never see or hear of.Roe vs Wade will never be overturned as long as Republicans can use it to keep their base.Its all they have to keep their ever shrinking party from dissolving into to nothingness.

    May 3, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  11. to hell with all of them

    the 400 families who own the wealth of the nation

    alos own three branches of the government

    of the 400 families

    by the 400 families, and

    for the 400 families.

    there's no room for their slaves, uh, the people.

    May 3, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  12. gl, Pittsburgh

    Democrats dismissed the GOP charge, arguing that Obama — a former constitutional law professor — would tap a candidate committed to equal justice and not use a high court opening to pursue a partisan political agenda.

    That right he will select someone that believe in equal justice which is not a white far right person. Look like they have alot of them al ready. Needs check and balance. Latin or Black woman botton line. There ARE already a white woman, 7 white men, and one black man. SO GO FIGURE!

    May 3, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  13. Shecky

    Why should he pick a woman, hispanic or black? How 'bout the most qualified PERSON??? Now THERE'S a novel idea.

    May 3, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  14. An Independent

    "judicial activist" n. – a term used by Republicans for any judge that exhibits one or more of the following:
    – awareness that we're living in the 21st century, not the 18th
    – actually considering the arguments of a case before making a decision rather than automatically handing down the most conservative opinion possible regardless of the facts of the case
    – believing that the Founding Fathers intended for all people, even non-conservatives, to have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
    – disagreeing with Rush Limbaugh on any issue

    Considering that, I certainly hope that Obama chooses a "judicial activist" or the country's going to be in worse shape in the future than it is now.

    May 3, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  15. Maggie from Virginia

    If Republicans feel "empathy and understanding" is liberal idealogy, what does that say about them?

    May 3, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  16. MRT

    Typical Republicans, fighting before they know what they are fighting about.. the party of NO confirmed once again.

    May 3, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  17. HERE com da judge..

    YES REPUBLICANS !!!! It will a judge with a feeling for we lowely people. A judge who understands the complications of life. A judge who you (republicans) won't like. BUT guess what... It's the Democrats turn now. Our President Obama will do the right thing, he will give us the best of the best....

    May 3, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  18. Kenton

    Disgruntled Republicans won't approve of President Obama's choice no matter who it is...that's their nature!

    May 3, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  19. judasgoat

    please don't press our prez on anything republicans. you folks got 2 picks so sit down and shut up please. let this prez run the show, you repubs squallered 8 yrs. now be quiet. now some sugguest he look outside the judical place for a candidate, like a person from politics oh hell no. you type of people, will and have sold your souls. i pray he won't even look your way. he should stay away from all you K STREET HUSTLERS.

    May 3, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  20. gl, Pittsburgh

    Leave us women along. It is not for the government to tell us women what to do with our body. You republicans talk that talk you believe in smaller govenment but want the government to be all up in our lives. Republicans like government as long as it is telling us what we can and can not do, but when it is to help the American people they scream big government. Repubicans what women to keep their unwanted babies, but don't want government to help them take care of unwanted babies. Republicans know that having unwanted babies keep the poor poorer and don't want the government to provide the poor with any help. So why keep a baby you know you can not take care of and no the govenment don't want to help either.

    May 3, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  21. JonDie

    It's the president's call. Will Republicans ever grow up? NO.

    May 3, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  22. Tony in Maine

    ...unlike Dubya's activist choices to the Scalia Court of the United States who are yanking the country back to it's antebellum period (as in pre-1860).

    If Obama picks a true centrist, it will be a partisan choice as far as the far right is concerned. McConnell and Cornyn will find a friendly mic and video crew and wring their hands about the imminent death of the Republic. There will be promises of filibuster and forgotten will be Frist's chant of "up or down" sometimes spoken as "upordown"

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

    May 3, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  23. Sammy

    You mean the republicans think putting a judge with partisan views on the bench is wrong? Really?

    In all seriousness, its quite likely there will be 60 democrats in the senate and it will be very hard to get a filibuster going. So while the republicans certainly have some negotiating power it would be a mistake for them to push too much against a very popular president.

    May 3, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  24. Perusing-through

    OMG, Justice Souter (a moderate) barely announces his retirement, and James Dobson's "christian-evangelical, gun-toten, bible-thumping, torture-loving" hypocrites want to steal President Obama's responsibility to pick a replacement, just so the GOP can replace a moderate Souter with right-wing wacko ditto-head like Sarah Palin.

    May 3, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  25. Judy

    There is nothing wrong with President Obama wanting a justice with real world experience who can at least relate to the common American when considering the law. The republicans would have a lot more credibility if they at least waited until they know who the nominee will be before they start criticizing.

    May 3, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
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