Supreme Court Justice Nominee With 'Empathy' Are Fighting Words for GOP

GOP braces for bipartisan opposition to counter president's "empathy standard."

April 10, 2010 — -- Just a day after Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement after more than three decades on the Supreme Court, Republicans are already gearing up for a fight over who will replace him.

During a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters he would block any nominee he suspects of having a tendency toward "judicial activism." He said, "President Obama has already picked some of the most ... activist judicial nominees I've seen in my 34 years in the Senate, and I hope he doesn't try to do the same to the Supreme Court."

Before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to replace the retiring Justice David Souter last year, President Obama said he was looking for a nominee who could display "empathy."

Yesterday Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement criticizing the so-called "empathy standard," saying it is "deeply unpopular with the American people, and any nominee who subscribes to it should expect bipartisan opposition."

Since Sotomayor was confirmed with bipartisan support last summer, partisan politics have gotten uglier in the wake of the health care debate, and bipartisanship of any kind has taken a beating.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, says, "There's no question in this toxic environment, the Republicans are likely to oppose most any nominee. The question is whether President Obama is willing to go to the mat for a nominee the way he did with health care."

The White House has confirmed a short list of possible nominees, including Elena Kagen, 49, the president's solicitor general and the former Dean of Harvard Law School, and two sitting judges, Merrick Garland, 58, a moderate with conservative support who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr., and Diane Wood, 59, the most liberal of the group, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton, in 1995, to serve under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Supreme Court Nominee Should be Named ASAP

Kevin Madden, a Washington-based Republican strategist, says no matter who President Obama ends up nominating the administration wants to get this done quickly.

"It's in the administration's interest and it's in Democrats up on Capitol Hill's interest to make this a much smoother process. That way it's off the table by the time elections really heat up in the fall," he says.

White House officials say they intend to name their Supreme Court nominee by the end of May.