President Obama said today he would nominate someone to the Supreme Court by the end of May, a timetable that he hopes will allow Senate confirmation by the start of the August congressional recess.
That timetable, which Obama disclosed at the start of an Oval Office meeting with key senators from both parties, would have a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the bench for the start of the court's new term in October.
Both Obama and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said they hoped the process plays out along the same timeline for his first nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was nominated in late May last year and confirmed in early August.
Obama said both parties "worked very cooperatively on what I considered to be a smooth, civil, thoughtful nomination process" last year. "My hope is ... that we can do the exact same thing this time. Last time, the nomination went up at the end of May. We are certainly going to meet that deadline and we hope maybe we can accelerate it a little bit so that we have some additional time."
Also attending the White House meeting were Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Minority Leader McConnell and Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions.
Aides and participants said potential nominees were not discussed at the meeting, but Obama urged the participants to privately give him recommendations. Reid later told reporters he had lobbied the president to avoid nominating a sitting judge.
"I hope that we have someone who is not a circuit court judge," Reid said. "I personally feel it should be someone who is an academic, someone who has held public office, someone who is an outstanding lawyer." He said the president promised to "take that into consideration."
In a statement this afternoon, McConnell and Sessions said Republicans "will treat the president's nominee fairly. But a lifetime position on the nation's highest court requires a thorough process, not a rush to judgment."
Obama responded carefully to a question about whether he would nominate someone who did not support abortion rights.
"Obviously, this has been a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time," he said. "I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is, I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues."
But, he added, "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."
This article appears in the April 24, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.