Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stopped just short of threatening a filibuster of any liberal the president nominates to replace liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, but newly-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter thinks the ugly mood of the Senate “might well produce” one if Stevens retires this year. Both were appearing on Fox News Sunday. Stevens, who was nominated for the court by Republican president Gerald Ford, suggested in an interview published in the Times yesterday that he is considering leaving the court soon.
Under the previous administration, Kyl was not nearly this much of a fan of procedural maneuvers to block presidential nominees. Speaking with Gwen Ifill in support of the Republican “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster altogether, Kyl had this to say back then:
SEN. JOHN KYL: For 214 years it has been the tradition of the Senate to approve judicial nominees by a majority vote. Many of our judges and, for example, Clarence Thomas, people might recall, was approved by either fifty-one or fifty-two votes as I recall. It has never been the rule that a candidate for judgeship that had majority support was denied the ability to be confirmed once before the Senate. It has never happened before. So we’re not changing the rules in the middle of the game. We’re restoring the 214-year tradition of the Senate because in the last two years Democrats have begun to use this filibuster.
That face-off ended when the “Gang of 14,” a group of “centrist” Democratic and Republican senators, brokered a deal for the 109th Congress in which the Republican senators voted against the nuclear option in return, essentially, for the Democrats passing all the president’s nominees who had not actually withdrawn by that point. The minority party retained the right to filibuster under “extraordinary circumstances,” although the Republicans clearly retained the right to define what “extraordinary circumstances” were.
That’s a right Kyl appears to believe that the Republicans retain in the minority.
“I think the president will nominate a qualified person. I hope, however, he does not nominate an overly ideological person. That will be the test,” Kyl said. “And if he doesn’t nominate someone who is overly ideological, I don’t think — you may see Republicans voting against the nominee, but I don’t think you’ll see them engage in a filibuster.”
As a yardstick, the senator made it abundantly clear when questioning Sonia Sotomayor at her confirmation hearings that he considered her to be an overly ideological person. He made it pretty clear when he was questioning Samuel Alito that he didn’t think the nominee’s ideological bent was any of the Judiciary Committee’s business.
Specter, for his part, would prefer it if Stevens waited until after the election, when, for some reason he didn’t share, he imagines things will be less partisan. Specter, who was until recently a Republican, is running behind his expected Republican opponent in his first Senate race as a Democrat this year, and this is something he’d probably prefer not to have to deal with just now.