The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says his party should have been more forceful in evaluating the last two Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court.
"I don't think they were aggressive enough, probably, in inquiring into their history, and how they are likely, based on their judicial philosophy, to have ruled in the future,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). His comments came in an interview for C-SPAN Newsmakers conducted by reporters from The National Law Journal and McClatchy Newspapers.
President Bill Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 and Justice Stephen Breyer in 1994. The Senate confirmed both by overwhelming, bipartisan margins, in part because Republicans expected them to be more moderate than other potential Clinton nominees.
Sessions, who won election to the Senate in 1996, said some of his colleagues have been disappointed — at least by one of the justices. “I think a lot of Republicans that voted for Ginsburg now believe that was probably a mistake,” he said.
The interview is scheduled to air at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday. During the interview, Sessions vowed a thorough confirmation process for President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Justice David Souter, declining to rule out a filibuster. But he also said he would not rule out voting for a nominee who favors abortion rights or voting for Elena Kagan, whom he opposed for solicitor general.
Sessions, who became the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee this month, said he opposes a pay raise for federal judges, the creation of more appellate judgeships, and cameras in the Supreme Court. Excerpts after the jump.
On the possibility of a filibuster: “I’ve not favored a filibuster. I opposed two nominees in the Clinton years aggressively. Trent Lott said, ‘It’s time to bring it up for a vote.’ I voted for cloture, to give them a final vote, because I did not favor the filibuster technique and I’m very uneasy about that. But, you remember the Gang of 14, and the Democrats were filibustering Bush nominees, and they said, ‘In extraordinary circumstances, but only in those circumstances, should you justify a filibuster.’ Maybe that’s the new standard. It’s not in concrete, but that may be the standard that would be used in the future.”
On a nominee who supports abortion rights: “Could I support a pro-abortion nominee? The answer is yes. I think it’s a great country. I don’t expect nominees to come to the bench who do not have views on issues, and I don’t expect them to not have been engaged in the great issues of the day. But when they put on that robe, and two people come before them, and they’re a pro-life and pro-choice … party, that judge should give them a fair shake. They shouldn’t allow their personal view on abortion to shape how they define the law.”
On Kagan, rumored to be on Obama’s short list: “I think she should be able to come forward again and have a clean slate. She’ll have to deal with some of the same issues that caused quite a number of senators to vote against her, but I think she should be given a full opportunity to respond and we should not prejudge her.”
On judicial pay: “I’m inclined to say that if you take a judgeship — a big salary, you just have to accept that’s not part of it. Oh, they can make more at a big law firm, I don’t doubt it, but there’s some real value if a life on a bench if you like that and are good at it.”
On adding judges to some circuit courts, which Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) supports: “We’ve got courts that are really demanding more judges with substantially less caseload. … If the court gets bigger and bigger and bigger, it becomes less collegial, less coherent, less able to speak with one voice in a logical way and you can end up with confusion in the law.”
On cameras in the courts: “Most judges don’t favor that. The Supreme Court does not favor that. I believe, constitutionally, we have the power to say it should be open, although it’s fairly close, but I think we should respect the courts’ view. And the courts, it’s their branch of government. They don’t want it. They strongly do not favor it, so I have been supportive of that.”