WASHINGTON (AP) - Conservatives are rallying behind Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to become the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee as the resignation of Supreme Court Justice David Souter adds new urgency to the post.
Sessions, of Mobile, a hard-line conservative whose 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship was rejected by the Senate, appears to be in line for the job after the previous ranking member, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, left the GOP this week to become a Democrat. Republicans are expected to decide the matter early this week, and the result could determine the tone and ferocity of the party's opposition to Obama's judicial nominees.
Such committee leadership decisions usually are based on seniority. Although there are several senators above Sessions on the panel, they are either restricted under committee term limits or would have to give up top positions on other panels to take the position. Still, Sessions' promotion was not a sure thing, and some conservative groups worried that party leaders might look to a more centrist lawmaker to take the high-profile post. Wendy Long, counsel for the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, says Sessions is perceived as the "kind of warrior that's needed for this fight." Long says he's "very smart and he's a very good lawyer ... but he also is aggressive and he won't give up."