WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Sunday declined to rule out a filibuster to block President Barack Obama's next nominee for the Supreme Court, but they said it will only happen with an extremist pick.
"I'm never going to take it off the table," said Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, appearing on ABC's "This Week."
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said any nominee with a "judges know best" philosophy will prompt a big fight with the GOP.
Obama was given the choice to fill a Supreme Court seat after moderate Justice John Paul Stevens, who will be 90 soon, announced last week that he would retire.
The prospect of a political fight over the next High Court nominee would play out during the politically sensitive time before the mid-elections. With a nation angry at Washington over all manner of things, including its handling of the ongoing financial crisis, a divisive nominee from Obama or a nasty confirmation battle by Republicans could easily provide more ammunition to a disenchanted electorate.
For now, however, the Republicans are talking tough.
A fight, Sessions said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" is "in the president's hands." Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said he's reserving the prerogative to deny an up-or-down vote on any Supreme Court nominee but said a filibuster would happen if "the president picks someone from the fringe instead of the middle."
To stop a filibuster, the Senate needs 60 votes.
Alexander said Obama risks Republican opposition if his nominee is one "who applies their feelings instead of applying the law."
"You want a Supreme Court justice who will be impartial — that's the oath," Alexander said on "FOX News Sunday."
Kyl put it this way: "What I object to, and I think my colleagues would object to, is somebody that comes in with preconceived notions about how particular cases should be decided."
Obama's second pick in two years to the high court will be a jurist whose likely tenure could be decades. Replacing Stevens, who has served on the court since 1975, with another like-minded justice would protect the court's liberal bloc far into the future.
On the FOX show, Independent Sen. Joe Liebermann of Connecticut said the best way for Obama to avoid a protracted confirmation battle would be to select a nominee who's not "provocatively" liberal.
As a former lawyer and law professor, Obama understands the importance of the pick, Liebermann said, adding that he's encouraged by the early talk that a nominee may be unique in that he or she won't be a sitting judge.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he expects a moderate nominee from the president: "He chooses people in the mainstream, so I don't think there's going to be a filibuster," Schumer said on ABC's "This Week." He said the first criteria for a nominee should be someone with "legal excellence" but that the nominee should also be "quite persuasive" in building coalitions on the court.
"What you want is somebody who will follow the law, not make the law," Schumer said. "Not impose their ideology, if they're far right, far left, on the law itself. If they're in the mainstream, you don't have to agree with all of their views to vote for them. I voted for hundreds of judges that George Bush nominated, and I didn't agree with their views, their judicial ideology. But as long as I thought they would follow the law, not make law, I was willing to vote for them. ... President Obama is likely to choose somebody in Justice Stevens' image."
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