Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he was not speaking from any inside knowledge when he suggested that President Barack Obama might select a Supreme Court nominee this week.
Hatch clarified comments he made to reporters Monday after he spoke with the president by phone about the retirement of Justice David Souter. “I was asked yesterday, ‘When do you think he’ll do this?’ And I said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it by the end of the week,’” Hatch told reporters today. He added, “People started saying I said he would do it by the end of the week.”
The comments on Monday, Hatch said today, reflected only the fact that the Obama administration has been preparing for a possible vacancy for months.
“My feeling is that they’ve known since he got elected that they’re going to get at least one Supreme Court nominee. I have no doubt that they’ve vetted at least 10 or 12 people so far, and I think the sooner he sends one up, the more likely he’ll be to have that person confirmed by the Senate” by the Supreme Court’s new term in October, Hatch said.
In his briefing today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ruled out an announcement this week. The sooner the announcement, the more time the Senate would have to work on the nomination ahead of its August recess.
Hatch’s clarification came after the Republicans’ weekly caucus meeting, at which they officially approved Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as the new top GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions succeeds Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched to the Democrats a week ago. The committee has jurisdiction over Supreme Court nominations.
Hatch added that he and Obama did not discuss timing when they spoke Monday. “I don’t know when he’s going to pick the person. I just think he needs to do it sooner rather than later,” he said.
The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network released a memorandum this morning protesting that the process might be moving too quickly. Executive director Gary Marx and counsel Wendy Long wrote that “any rush to appoint a Supreme Court Justice with lightning speed is all the more unseemly” because of the Obama administration’s problems vetting other high-profile nominees.