Leahy To Oversee Hearings On Stevens Replacement

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(Host) Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ has announced his plans to retire.

Senator Patrick Leahy will be in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee when it holds hearings on a replacement for Stevens.

And, as VPR’s John Dillon reports, Leahy is calling on Republicans to work with him on confirming a new justice.

(Dillon) As a young senator in 1975, Leahy voted to confirm Stevens who had been nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford.

(Leahy) "I was proud to vote for him then and I’m still very, very proud of that vote. I would hope that President Obama’s nominee will be treated with the same kind of bipartisan respect that Justice Stevens was treated with."

(Dillon) In the years since, Stevens has emerged as a leader of the court’s liberal wing. Leahy, who is now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will oversee Senate hearings on Stevens’ replacement.

Leahy wants to hold confirmation hearings this summer in order to have a new justice on the job by the fall.

But with the mid-term congressional election this fall, the hearings could trigger a bitter partisan divide.

Leahy is calling for a fair and civil process.

(Leahy) "I would hope that everybody would say this is not a justice for Republicans or for Democrats. This is a justice for the American people. We were able to put together very good hearings, ones that I chaired, with Justice Sotomayor and also with Chief Justice Roberts when I was ranking member. I’m hoping we can do the same thing."

(Dillon) Justice Stevens authored majority opinions that limited the use of the death penalty and expanded the rights of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Leahy says Stevens’ replacement should not represent any particular ideology.

(Leahy) "I want a justice who feels first and foremost that he or she is there to represent all Americans, not act as a spokesperson for either political party. We’ve had too much of that. I want somebody to represent all Americans, especially those Americans who look to the Supreme Court as the last place to protect their rights."

(Dillon) President Obama says he’ll move quickly to nominate a replacement. He says he’s looking for someone with the same independent mind as Justice Stevens. 

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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