Sessions in Line for Top GOP Judiciary Spot

By Kate Barrett

May 4, 2009 4:13pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: As President Obama begins the search for a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee will assemble in the Capitol building this afternoon to select a new ranking Republican to spearhead their defense.

The results of the meeting, set to occur after a 5:30pm floor vote, will have to be ratified tomorrow by the full Republican caucus, but the decision appears to have been made, according to Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the conservative Alabaman whose own nomination to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan was scuttled by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1980s, is poised lead the Republican side of the committee through President Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination.

Sessions will leapfrog over Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who is next in line by seniority, but is busy as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Sessions and Grassley spoke earlier today and worked out the deal, which gives Sessions the top Republican spot, but only through the end of this Congress. In January 2011, Grassley will lose his Finance Committee post to a Republican term limit rule. He’ll take over the Judiciary Committee then. And Sessions could be able to seize control of the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee. Sen. Judd Gregg, the current Budget Committee ranking member, has said he will not seek reelection in 2010.

The Judiciary Committee post became available with the defection last week of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Republican party. And Sessions will take up the mantle of conservatives alarmed at the prospect of the pool of liberal judges and lawyers that President Obama seems likely to use as he searches for a replacement to Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who is retiring later this year.

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