POLITICS
06/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sessions: Obama's Court Nominees No Longer Get "Powerful Deference"

The rationale is gradually being put in place for Republicans to mount a filibuster of Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

On Sunday, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions, suggested that the country had moved to a place "in which there is not as much deference" -- "this automatic powerful deference" -- given to the President's Supreme Court nominees as in the past. Earlier, he refused to "rule out" using a filibuster.

"I have not favored a filibuster," said the Alabama Republican during an appearance on C-SPAN Newsmakers. "I opposed two nominees in the Clinton years aggressively. Trent Lott said it was time to bring it up for a vote. I voted for cloture to give them a final vote because I did not favor a filibuster technique... But you remember the gang of fourteen? The Democrats were filibustering Bush nominees and they said 'well, 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 is used in the future."

The comments from Sessions were mirrored by those offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who appeared on Fox News Sunday.

"All things are possible," said the Kentucky Republican of a possible filibuster. "I think the Senate deliberately decided not to take a position one way or the other. And as you know we did have a cloture vote on Justice Alito, which the President, by the way, opposed... So the President himself has indicated that all options are open, but I think it is way premature."

It remains unclear which criteria would prompt the GOP to rally behind a filibuster. Earlier in the program, Sessions repeated that he could, in fact, support a nominee who held pro-choice views, adding the caveat that "they shouldn't allow their personal view on abortion to shape how they define the law." More tellingly, Sessions insisted that were the Senate to consider the nomination of current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg today, Republicans would be more "aggressive" about "inquiring" into her history "and how [she was] likely based on [her] judicial philosophy to have ruled in the future."

As for a potential Supreme Court nominee specific to Obama -- Solicitor General Elena Kagan -- Sessions insisted that she would have "a clean slate" should she be put forward. Having voted against her nomination for her current post, the Senator noted that she would face sharp questions about her stance on the military's right to recruit on college campuses.

"[I] had been deeply involved in the question of the military coming on the campus of universities, I offered legislation to overcome that," said Sessions. "And she challenged that constitutionally as dean of Harvard, signing the brief, and was rejected by the Supreme Court, eight to nothing. And so, I think she made an error in that. We had hundreds of American soldiers losing their lives in Iraq while she was denying the United States military the right to come on a campus. She may be able to explain that better than I understand it now. But that was a big deal to me."

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