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Senators weigh in on justice search

Lawmakers say Obama should pick person with experience beyond the federal bench.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s search to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter should extend beyond the current roster of federal judges, senators from both political parties said Sunday.

“I would like to see more people from outside the judicial monastery, somebody who has had some real-life experience, not just as a judge,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings when Obama makes his nomination.

Noting that all nine justices came directly from the federal appeals court, senators on the committee said someone with a wider breadth of experience would be a plus.

When he was discussing the qualities he would seek in Souter’s successor, Obama said last week he wanted someone with empathy for average Americans. Conservatives fear that means the president would consider “judicial activists” for the seat.

Leahy said he expects the next justice to be confirmed by the court’s new term in October and that the president will consult with lawmakers from both parties.

“I would like to see, certainly, more women on the court. Having only one woman on the Supreme Court does not reflect the makeup of the United States. I think we should have more women. We should have more minorities,” Leahy said.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a committee member who last week switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, suggested someone in the mold of a statesman or stateswoman, and said he could imagine a nominee who was not a lawyer, if that a person had the right credentials.

“I would like to see somebody with broader experience,” Specter said. “We have a very diverse country. We need more people to express a woman’s point of view or a minority point of view, Hispanic or African American ... .”

Obama said Friday he would nominate a person who combines “empathy and understanding” with an impeccable legal background “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.”

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he hopes Obama will choose someone of “great dimension.” At the same time, he said that Obama’s criteria raise concern and he contended that the president says he will select a nominee according to that person’s politics, feelings and preferences.

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