WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is looking for a Supreme Court nominee with past Republican support, Vice President Joe Biden said, offering some of the first indications of the White House criteria in trying to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Biden, in a radio interview airing Thursday, disagreed with Republicans who insist that Obama let that decision fall to the next president, who will take office next January.
“In order to get this done, the president is not going to be able to go out — nor would it be his instinct, anyway — to pick the most liberal jurist in the nation and put them on the court,” the vice president told Minnesota Public Radio. “There are plenty of judges (who) are on high courts already who have had unanimous support of the Republicans.”
There are signs that some Republicans are softening their stance, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s insistence that Obama should not even make a nomination.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the Senate should hold hearings on an Obama nominee. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the Portland Press Herald that a nominee would get her “full attention” and that senators “should carry out our constitutional duty.”
Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired as a justice in 2006, urged that the vacancy on the nine-member court be filled expeditiously. O’Connor, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, told Fox 10 in Phoenix that she disagreed with those calling to wait for the next president.
“I think we need somebody there now to do the job,” she said, “and let’s get on with it.”
But others Republicans held firm.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said it seemed clear that Obama would not get a nominee confirmed unless he were to pick someone in Scalia’s mold, preserving the court’s ideological balance.
“For that reason, it might be just as well not to have a hearing that would sort of — might mislead the American people into thinking that this is just about the qualifications of the candidate,” Toomey said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Because it’s bigger than that.”
Republican leaders were working to turn the tables on Democrats. GOP aides circulated a comment that current Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada made during a 2005 debate over judges nominated by Republican President George W. Bush.
“Nowhere in (the Constitution) does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential appointees a vote,” Reid said at the time. “It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That is very different than saying every nominee receives a vote.”
Advocacy groups were getting involved, too.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group headed by a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, said it was spending more than $1 million on TV and radio ads in Washington arguing that “next president chooses the next justice.”
Obama is expected to look closely at a number of appeals court judges, including some who meet the benchmark that Biden laid out.
Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was confirmed by a vote of 97-0 less than three years ago. Senators also unanimously confirmed Jane Kelly in 2013 to the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Biden, who presided over Supreme Court confirmation hearings while in the Senate, took issue with the notion that a Scalia replacement can’t be confirmed during Obama’s final year.
“To leave the seat vacant at this critical moment in American history is a little bit like saying, ‘God forbid something happen to the president and the vice president; we’re not going to fill the presidency for another year and a half,'” Biden said.
Associated Press writers Sam Hananel and Alan Fram in Washington, Marc Levy in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Doug Glass in Minneapolis and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.