Leahy urges President to take time on O’Conner replacement decision

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is urging President Bush to take his time in selecting a replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner.

O’Connor, who was the first woman appointed to the Court, announced her retirement plans
on Friday.

Leahy says this court appointment will be one of the most important in recent history.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Leahy will be playing a key role in the Senate’s review of the person that the president nominates to replace O’Conner because he’s the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee.

Leahy praised O’Connor’s tenure on the Supreme Court and described her as a key swing vote on many critical issues:

(Leahy) “Her replacement could either keep the court impartial and independent or could swing the court one way or the other. I feel strongly that the court should never be the wing of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. It should be impartial. It should be there for all Americans.”

(Kinzel) During his news conference with reporters, Leahy left the room to take a call from President Bush. Leahy says he told the president that he feels Mr. Bush has a wonderful opportunity with this nomination.

(Leahy) “He can take an opportunity of uniting the country and not dividing the country. If he does that, he could have a nominee who could easily pass the Senate. Remember Sandra Day O’Connor passed the Senate unanimously. The president could do that again. I think the country would breathe a sigh of relief.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the upcoming vote on O’Connor’s replacement will be the most important nominee that he’s voted on during his thirty-one years in the Senate:

(Leahy) “I cannot think of a more important judicial nomination, at least none springs immediately to mind, because the court has been so evenly balanced.”

(Kinzel) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate recently reached a compromise concerning the use of the filibuster over judicial nominees. Democrats agreed to use this procedure only in extraordinary circumstances. Leahy says it’s premature to discuss a potential filibuster in this case.

(Leahy) “Let’s see who comes in here. The most important thing is that we have an independent court. An independent court protects the rights of all Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents and everybody else. An independent court – that’s what I want. That’s going to be my touchstone.”

(Kinzel) Justice O’Connor has agreed to stay on the court until her replacement has been confirmed by the Senate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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