Leahy Prepares For Starring Role In Court Confirmation

04/15/10 7:35AM By Ross Sneyd
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Senator Leahy with a delegation of French senators.

(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy will head to the White House next week with other Senate leaders to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy with President Obama.

As VPR's Ross Sneyd reports, Leahy will be at the center of the upcoming confirmation debate.

(Sneyd) During a rare day in Vermont in the middle of the week, Senator Leahy was going about the business of a typical U.S. senator.

He announced funding for a couple of Lake Champlain initiatives.

(Leahy) "That biodiversity takes a huge amount of work, a lot of knowledge to do it. ... I want you to know these programs will all be funded again this year."

(Sneyd) And he dropped in on a luncheon for a panel of senators from France who were visiting Burlington. And struggled with their language.

(Leahy) "Merci mon ami Monsieur Allbee. Bonjour. Et bien ...."

(Sneyd) But everywhere he goes, even here at home, the conversation inevitably turns back to the news out of Washington: That Justice John Paul Stevens plans to retire.

(Leahy) "I met again with Justice Stevens yesterday afternoon. Had a long talk with him. He appreciated what I've been saying about having a person who represents all of us."

(Sneyd) As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, it will be Leahy who will have to guide the nomination of Justice Stevens' replacement through the Senate.

Leahy has suggested the names of some possible nominees to President Obama. He won't disclose the names. But he does say he wants someone who can balance the court.

(Leahy) "There is concern that this has been a very, very activist, conservative activist court."

(Sneyd) Many of the most controversial cases have been decided by a single vote, he says.

So this will be a very closely watched and possibly difficult confirmation decision by the Senate.

Leahy is advising his colleagues to try to ignore what he expects will be extreme pressure from all sides.

(Leahy) "We're elected for six-year terms and if everyone of us said, ‘Oh, my gosh, there's this group on the far right, there's this group on the far left, I'd better jump or I'll be defeated.' If you have to live that way you don't deserve to be there in the first place."

(Sneyd) Senator Leahy says he's assured the president that hearings will be held soon after a nominee is announced. And, he says, the new justice will be confirmed before the Senate leaves for its summer vacation.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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