Key Player: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Republicans may find Sessions, the junior senator from Alabama, is more predictably in line with their interpretation of the Constitution than his predecessor.
"Senator Specter was really an independent person… But we'll be working I think to promote the classical Republican view of the rule of law; fairness to all parties, rich and poor alike and that kind of thing," Sessions said in a May 17 interview on C-SPAN.
Sessions has said he would rather have a nominee with judicial experience than someone with what Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called "real-life experience, not just as a judge" on ABC's "This Week."
Sessions said he will insist on a fair hearing to replace Justice David Souter, who will retire in June after 18 years on the bench. He has said he could support a pro-abortion nominee but has said from the beginning that personal views should not influence how judges define the law.
"Any nominee must understand that the role of a justice is to be a neutral umpire of the law, calling the balls and strikes fairly while avoiding the temptation to make policy or legislate from the bench based on personal political views," Sessions said in a statement when he assumed the role of ranking committee member.
Sessions is one of seven Republicans on the 19-member committee responsible for conducting hearings on the president's nominees to the Supreme Court and then determines if the full Senate will consider the nomination. A Senate majority is needed to confirm a candidate. With only 40 GOP senators, Sessions and his party will have a difficult — but not impossible — time blocking a nominee.
After Specter's switch, Sessions became ranking member even though other Republicans on the committee are more senior, including Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah, Sen. John Kyl of Arizona and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who either hold top posts on other committees or cannot fill the seat because of GOP conference rules.
Sessions was quick to announce his new leadership team on the committee, including Brian Benczkowski, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, as staff director.
In 2008, Sessions easily won a third Senate term with 63.4 percent of the vote. Earlier in his political career, he served as attorney general of Alabama after his election in 1995 until joining the Senate in 1997. In addition to the Judiciary Committee, Sessions also serves on the Budget Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In 1985, Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge but his nomination was rejected by the Judiciary Committee.
He earned his bachelor's degree from Huntingdon College in 1969 and his law degree from the University of Alabama in 1973. After graduating, Sessions was a practicing lawyer, assistant U.S. attorney and then U.S. district attorney for Alabama's Southern District beginning in 1981, a position he held until 1993. He served in the Army Reserves from 1973 to 1986.
Sessions and his wife have three children.