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Republicans Back Away From Initial Calls To Block Obama Supreme Court Nominee


Now for an update on the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. President Obama says he intends to nominate a successor, and the White House is being tightlipped about the details. Senate Republicans have been insisting they won't go along with it, but now some of them may be softening their stance. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is here in the studio. Hi, Nina.


SHAPIRO: Republican candidates and senators have said they do not want to consider an Obama nominee. They want the next president to pick the person who will fill this vacancy. But now it seems like some senior Republicans might be opening the door to at least holding confirmation hearings. What's the latest?

TOTENBERG: Well, they're getting very squishy on this subject. Texas Senator John Cornyn, for instance, who tweeted his opposition to considering any nominee, sounded more receptive to at least giving the eventual nominee a hearing today, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who earlier said the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process, is now trying to back away from that statement.

SHAPIRO: It suggests that maybe they were seeing bad political blowback from initially saying, we won't consider anyone. Why didn't they start from this position - we'll wait for a nominee, hold a hearing and then see what happens?

TOTENBERG: It was a tactical mistake. They were suddenly seeing themselves being portrayed as obstructionists, and then it turned out the GOP claims that the Senate hadn't considered a Supreme Court nomination in an election year in 80 years - well, that proved to be untrue. It all is beginning to get a little embarrassing, and you see them now trying to create some wiggle room for themselves.

SHAPIRO: If that's what's happening on the Republican side, how about at the White House where they are deciding who they're going to nominate? What are you hearing there?

TOTENBERG: Well, basically, there are two schools of thought as far as I can tell. Name a moderate - someone like Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. - and if he gets dusted up or ages another year - he's 63 right now - well, then if the next president is a Democrat, she or he doesn't have to stick with that nomination.

The other school of thought is it's time to name a minority, an Obama appointee, somebody young, vibrant, pushy and perhaps most particularly an African-American who's not Clarence Thomas. The extra benefit in doing that, so this argument goes, is it'll help get out the Democratic vote in the upcoming election.

And the hot name in Washington yesterday and today in that regard is Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a career prosecutor, especially since she's been recently vetted and approved by the Senate. But only 10 Republicans voted for her, and that wasn't for a lifetime appointment. I still think that the betting is for a minority or a woman, if not Lynch. And they are - you've heard the names before, and we shouldn't rehash them here. They don't mean much to anybody anyway.

SHAPIRO: Nina, you knew Justice Antonin Scalia for years. I'm sure all the Supreme Court justices have thoughts about who will succeed them. Did he ever express any of those thoughts to you?

TOTENBERG: Well, he was pretty clear, as Chief Justice Rehnquist was before him. He was pretty clear. He said you should go with the gal who brung you, meaning the president - the party of the president who nominated you should be the party that's in office, and you can control that when you retire. You can't control that when you die. Chief Justice Rehnquist lucked out. He died on a Republican watch. Justice Scalia did not luck out.

SHAPIRO: Briefly, any sense of timing on a nomination?

TOTENBERG: The White House knows it has to move quickly. I would say a week or two - at the very, very outside - three.

SHAPIRO: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg - always good to see you here in the studio, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Nice to see you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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