US President Barack Obama’s Republican foes on Tuesday forced a largely symbolic one-week delay in a key Senate panel’s vote on his second US Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee will now take up the nomination on July 20, when the panel is set to send it to the full Senate for all-but-certain confirmation as just the fourth woman to reach the highest US court.
The justices serve lifetime terms as the final arbiters of the US Constitution, setting precedents for all US courts and adjudicating bitter disputes, often in narrow 5-4 rulings that can take a generation to reverse.
Some of their most controversial recent decisions have included the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States and the Bush v. Gore decision that ended the disputed 2000 election in George W. Bush’s favor.
Democrats and their two independent allies control 58 Senate seats, well over the 50 needed to confirm Kagan, and Republicans have shown no sign they plan to use parliamentary delay tactics that require 60 votes to break.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, warned against “needless delay” but granted a request by the panel’s top Republican, Senator Jeff Sessions, to delay the vote one week.
Leahy said the committee would return July 20 and that he planned to “vote that day” on referring the nomination to the full Senate.
The White House and its Democratic allies have said they would like Kagan confirmed as liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens’s replacement before the month-long August congressional recess, in time for the court’s fall session.
Kagan — who as US solicitor general has represented the Obama administration before the high court — would be the second justice named by Obama, after Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to reach the bench.
Nominating US Supreme Court justices ranks among the most consequential powers of the US presidency, as a judge’s lifetime tenure typically stretches well beyond the influence of the temporary occupant of the White House.