A top Republican Senator on the Judiciary committee suggested on Thursday that two of the people widely believed to be under consideration for a Supreme Court appointment would present "a real dilemma" for his party to oppose.
During an interview with Scott Hennen, a conservative North Dakota radio host, former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch praised Solicitor General Elena Kagan for having a "brilliant" legal mind, and called Sonia Sotomayor, a judge on the second circuit Court of Appeals, a liberal but "tough prospect."
"You have to admit Elena Kagan is a brilliant woman," said the Utah Republican. "She is a brilliant lawyer. If he picks her, it is a real dilemma for people. And she will undoubtedly say that she will abide by the rule of law. Sonia Sotomayor probably the same thing."
On Sotomayor, he added: "She is very liberal... she is a tough prospect. She is not only female but she is a Latino. She grew up in the housing projects. She understands human hardship but she is extremely liberal, no question about it."
As for another potential Obama nominee, Diane Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Hatch was not so kind.
"She is so sympathetic to issues like abortion rights that she even applied it in racketeering laws," he said.
The remarks provide new clues into how the Republican Party will approach some of key potential candidates for David Souter's soon-to-be-open seat on the Supreme Court. Hatch, who will play an influential role in the Supreme Court nomination fight, pledged to give "deference to whoever" President Obama chooses for the Court. But he also said he would oppose a nominee who stood outside the confines of mainstream jurisprudence or would use the post to pursue legislative goals.
"That's the way [liberals] can enact their loopy federal agenda that they could never get through the elected representatives of the people," he said.
The Senator again raised concerns that Obama had said empathy would be a qualification for a potential Supreme Court appointee. And when asked what he thought of the president's pledge to consider qualifications beyond traditional legal experience, the Utah Republican warned that "those are code words for putting somebody on the bench who doesn't understand the limited power of the role of judges in our system of government."
Hatch also whacked Obama for opposing Justices Alito and Roberts - a subtle sign that the president's votes on those Supreme Court nominees will be used against him this time around.
"When he voted against Chief Justice John Roberts back in '05, he said the judges decided cases based on their personal values," he said. "Well, no matter what are your personal values, that is opposite of the rule of law. He also voted against Judge Alito, now Justice Alito. You can't find two better people than Roberts and Alito. They may be conservative but they certainly were highly qualified."