May 3, 2009 / 5:21 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. senators weigh in on Supreme Court selection

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter should be pragmatic, follow the law and not be an ideologue, Democratic and Republican senators said on Sunday.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter is seen in this 2006 class photo inside the Supreme Court in Washington taken on March 3, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

Obama has said he wants someone with a sharp, independent mind for his first appointment to the nation’s highest court. He also said last week he would look for someone who had empathy for ordinary Americans, remarks that raised concerns among conservatives that he would appoint an “activist judge,” who would make decisions based on politics and not law.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said on Sunday that he did not see Obama selecting an ideologue to replace Souter, who has served on the nine-member court since 1990. Souter said last week that he intended to retire when the justices go on their summer recess at the end of next month.

“I don’t like to see an ideologue of either the right or the left. I don’t think we’re going to have one,” Leahy, a Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Republican Senator Richard Shelby on the same show acknowledged that Obama would not lean conservative in his appointment, but said he should avoid someone who would bring their personal politics to the court.

“If he will appoint a pragmatist, someone who is not an ideologue, that someone is not just going to light all the light bulbs in America on the left, I think that would be good for the country,” Shelby said.

Senator Orrin Hatch, an influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that Obama would likely select a liberal who backed abortion rights.

“The question is, are they qualified? Are they going to be people who will be fair to the rich, the poor, the weak, the strong, the sick, the disabled, and yet give justice to those who may not be,” Hatch said.

Senator Arlen Specter, who last week switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he would like to see someone with broad experience appointed to the bench. He added that it may be time to appoint the first Hispanic to the court, or another woman or African-American.

“We have a very diverse country,” Specter said. “We need more people to express a woman’s point of view or a minority point of view, Hispanic or African-American, so that somebody who has done something more than wear a black robe for most of their lives.”

Leahy, who as head of the Judiciary Committee will help usher Obama’s appointment through the Senate, said he would like to see someone with broad life experience appointed.

“I’d like to see an appointment of somebody who has real life experiences, not just within a judicial monastery, but somebody who can reflect the feelings of real Americans,” Leahy said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Editing by Eric Beech

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