Gearing Up For Confirmation Battle

Allen and Diane Edge of Mesa, Ariz., walk on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Monday, May 16, 2005 in Washington. Wine lovers can't be barred from shipping home bottles purchased from out-of-state vineyards they visit in person or on the Internet, the Supreme Court said Monday in a decision toasted by the wine industry. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The Republican-controlled Senate on Friday started preparing for a confirmation battle, and GOP leaders said they hoped to have Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the bench for the new term in October.

"I think it is an important objective, and I think we can reach it," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who said he doesn't expect Democrats to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.

Democrats, however, said they wouldn't be rushed, considering that O'Connor said in her resignation statement that she would serve until her replacement was confirmed.

"We have plenty of time," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Specter will control the confirmation hearings, a task his staffers have been working on for months. Republican staffers speculate that initial hearings won't begin until a month to six weeks after President Bush nominates a successor to give senators time to do their own investigations of the nominee.

Mr. Bush will not make a nomination before July 8, the White House said, pushing any possible hearings back until August at the earliest if Specter follows that timetable.

Senators have not decided how to limit the number of witnesses, and GOP staffers have said hearings could go on for at least a week or more to accommodate senators, the nominee and the witnesses.

At the conclusion of the hearings, Specter will call a committee vote at the next available committee meeting. While Democrats have said they expect to question the nominee thoroughly, Supreme Court nominations traditionally advance to the full Senate for a vote even if they get negative recommendations from the Judiciary Committee.

If the nomination is controversial, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., will likely have to decide whether to try to prevent Democrats from using a filibuster to block confirmation.

"If a few senators refuse to grant the president and his nominee that courtesy, I would encourage Majority Leader Frist to restore the Senate's 214-year-old precedent that gave judges the basic right of vote," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Seven Democrats and seven Republicans have signed a pact not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.