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Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Urges A Successor To Scalia Pronto


People with strong views of the next Supreme Court appointment include a former justice.


Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman on the court. President Ronald Reagan appointed O'Connor just as he appointed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

INSKEEP: Republicans want to block Obama from replacing Scalia, leaving it to the next president. O'Connor says she disagrees. The retired justice said, quote, "we need somebody there now to do the job, and let's get on with it."

MONTAGNE: She is just one of many voices on the question. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: By Wednesday, liberal and conservative activists were calling dueling press conferences. Over at the Conservative Judicial Crisis Network, Shannen Coffin, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, had this to say.

SHANNEN COFFIN: There are four solid votes for the Democratic agenda on the court, and President Obama's objective here is to solidify that block with a fifth vote so that there is no balance on the court.

TOTENBERG: At the Liberal American Constitution Society, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine had this pointed observation.

EDWIN CHEMERINSKY: Overall, over the entire course of American history, 24 times, presidents have nominated individual in an election year. And in 21 of 24 instances, the nominee has been confirmed by the Senate.

TOTENBERG: Then, too, there are petition drives with liberal groups getting an early start. The online liberal group DemandProgress.org had 116,000 signatures by last night, demanding that Republicans act on an Obama nomination. Here's the campaign's Kurt Walters.

KURT WALTERS: If we allow one party to really attack the norms undergirding our entire government just because they are hewing so closely to their extreme policy agenda, that's really dangerous for the future of a country.

TOTENBERG: Senate Republicans, who initially backed the idea of blocking any action on a nomination, seemed, yesterday, to be getting a bit queasy about being seen as obstructionists, with some now saying they would be open to a confirmation hearing.

But confirmation hearings are unpredictable events. A nominee can charm the public or alienate it. Senators can make a nominee look foolish or look foolish themselves. Indeed, sometimes senators are sufficiently nasty that they arouse sympathy for a nominee. As of now, few in Washington would say there's much likelihood that an Obama nominee would be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate.

President Obama's previous Supreme Court nominees Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - neither a particularly controversial nominee, got only nine and five Republican votes, respectively. And that was in the first 2 years of the Obama presidency. As of now, only one Senate Republican, Maine's Susan Collins has said she would be even remotely open to voting for an Obama nominee. But confirmation battles are like baseball. And you know the old saying - anything can happen in a ballgame. Or if you prefer - it's not over until the fat lady sings. Or - well, you get my drift.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.