Sessions said he hopes not to filibuster a nominee, but said that Republicans feel that it's appropriate under "extraordinary circumstances." That was the standard set by the so-called "Gang of 14" in 2005, when a coalition of moderate senators came together to defuse a stand-off in which Democrats were holding up President George W. Bush's court picks.
In the meantime, Sessions said he's troubled by the way the president appears to be thinking about his court pick.
When Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement earlier this month, Obama said he'd seek a replacement with a "keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people."
Sessions said that approach is "dangerous."
"It is a call on the courts to abandon the clearly recognized American standard that you find the facts honestly, and you apply it to the law fairly interpreted," Sessions said.
For their part, Senate Democrats have served notice that they want the hearings to be something of a referendum on what they view as "activist" rulings from the Supreme Court, particularly the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance.
"A recent pattern has emerged of Supreme Court decisions by a slim, activist, conservative majority," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said after a bipartisan meeting with the president last week. "These opinions have not followed the law, but have overridden congressional intent and misconstrued laws designed to protect the American people, tilting the scales of justice in favor of corporate rights and against the rights of individual citizens."
The White House has indicated that it would like to see the new justice confirmed before the August recess. Sessions said that's a "realistic" goal, but said it shouldn't be viewed as a hard and fast deadline.
"We should try to accomplish that. But we've had a number of nominees who haven't promptly provided documents that they're supposed to provide, and you can always have something controversial," he said. "We shouldn't be in a mode that we've got an absolutely firm deadline that's got to be met -- it's not so."
Sessions also recounted an episode from last week's meeting between the president and top Senate leaders from both parties.
At the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mentioned that he and Sessions were the only politicians in the room who had never voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee. The Democrats in the room -- Leahy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and the president himself -- all voted to block Justice Samuel Alito's ascension to the high court.
"We've not filibustered a Supreme Court nominee. I would hope we won't again," Sessions said. "It's pretty bold for [Democrats] to go around saying how they opposed filibusters and people need up-and-down votes -- give me a break. Let me tell you -- that is a breath-taker for those of us who have been around."