Obama to meet Republicans on U.S. Supreme Court job
* Obama wants support in both parties for any nominee
* Confirmation fight could distract Democrats
* Republicans make clear up for fight over court
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and Senate Judiciary Committee next week, the White House said on Tuesday, as he seeks support in selecting a nominee for the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal who is one of the oldest and longest-serving justices, announced he will retire this summer, setting up what could be a bruising and distracting confirmation fight in the Senate over the Democratic president's nominee.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will come to the White House for the April 21 meeting, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Jeff Sessions, the committee's top Republican, also will attend, the White House said.
Obama has said he wants Stevens' successor confirmed before the next Supreme Court term begins in October.
Obama is expected to nominate a liberal to replace Stevens and then push hard to win the required Senate confirmation for the lifetime appointment. It would not change the overall ideological balance of the court, which has five conservatives and four liberals.
The confirmation battle could dominate Congress for some time and make it tougher for Obama's fellow Democrats to focus on reducing the U.S. unemployment rate, expected to be a major issue in congressional elections in November, as well as other legislation.
McConnell, who opposed Obama's first Supreme Court pick, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said Senate Republicans would "diligently review" the record of any Obama nominee.
"We are hopeful that this time around the president will select someone with extensive real-world legal experience and a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law," McConnell said.
Obama administration officials and legal experts said current Solicitor General Elena Kagan and U.S. appeals court judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland were expected to be among leading candidates to replace Stevens.
After Obama selects a nominee to replace Stevens, his candidate must be approved by the Judiciary Committee before the entire Senate can vote.
Stevens said he will retire one day after the court's current term ends, which is expected in late June.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Editing by Bill Trott)