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For next justice Senators want someone with "broad experience"

Monday, May 4, 2009

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's search to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter should extend beyond the current roster of federal judges, senators from both political parties said Sunday.

"I would like to see more people from outside the judicial monastery, somebody who has had some real-life experience, not just as a judge," said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings when Obama makes his nomination.

Noting that all nine justices came directly from the federal appeals court, senators on the committee said someone with a wider breadth of experience would be a plus.

When he was discussing the qualities he would seek in Souter's successor, Obama said last week he wanted someone with empathy for average Americans. Conservatives fear that means the president would consider "judicial activists" for the seat.

Leahy said he expects the next justice to be confirmed by the court's new term in October and that the president will consult with lawmakers from both parties.

"I would like to see, certainly, more women on the court. Having only one woman on the Supreme Court does not reflect the makeup of the United States. I think we should have more women. We should have more minorities," Leahy said.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a committee member who last week switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, suggested someone in the mold of a statesman or stateswoman, and said he could imagine a nominee who was not a lawyer, if that person had the right credentials.

"I would like to see somebody with broader experience ... somebody who's done something more than wear a black robe for most of their lives," Specter said.

Obama said Friday he would nominate a person who combines "empathy and understanding" with a legal background "who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives."

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he hopes Obama will choose someone of "great dimension." At the same time, he said Obama's criteria raise concern and he contended that the president said he will select a nominee according to that person's politics, feelings and preferences.

"We all know he's going to pick a more liberal justice. Their side will make sure that it's a pro-abortion justice. I don't think anybody has any illusions about that," Hatch said. "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."


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