'A Historic Justiceship Has Just Ended'

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This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," July 3, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: As soon as the president nominates someone to replace Justice O'Connor, the Senate Judiciary Committee will spring into action and prepare for hearings. And one of those who will be weighing the nominee and taking part in the debate is Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn who joins us now.

Senator Cornyn, thanks for joining us.


ANGLE: Now, a historic justiceship has just ended here. Justice O'Connor (search) sometimes irritated people on one side, sometimes people on the other side, was a key swing vote. Talk about her term on the court and what her position on the court suggests, if anything, for the kind of replacement and the kind of debate we'll have.

CORNYN: Well, Justice O'Connor has served 24 years on the United States Supreme Court, has made her mark. She has been that pivotal justice on so many closely decided decisions, 5-4.

I would suggest to you, it doesn't say anything at all about who the successor's going to be. Of course, that choice is up to the president and the president alone. And then the Senate get its choice, under the advice and consent clause.

The president's also said he's willing to listen to suggestions senators may have, but I know he's not going to concede to the Senate, as he shouldn't, the choice.

ANGLE: Well, let me get into the consultation in a moment. But first, let me ask you, some argue — and they were particularly arguing this in the case of Rehnquist — suggesting that if you had a conservative who resigned, the president could appoint or nominate a pretty sharp-edged conservative and it wouldn't change the balance of the court.

Here you have a person who was oftentimes the balance on the court, moving one way or the other. You don't think that the president is obligated in any way to try to find someone who will maintain that balance, who will be a sort of centrist swing vote?

CORNYN: Well, I don't think it's possible. You remember David Souter, Harry Blackmun, others who, perhaps, even started out viewing the court and the decisions they made in one way, as Harry Blackmun did, and then drifted in a different direction over his career.

I think, in some ways, it's sort of a silly effort to try to achieve this sort of ideological balance. What we need is somebody who's well qualified, who understands the role of a judge in our form of government, and who's willing to exercise some restraint in not impose their own political or social views for what the law is.

ANGLE: Now, we offered several Democrats the opportunity to sit here and argue with you, if they chose to do so. We did talk earlier with Senator Schumer, who is among those who say the president has to consult with Democrats before he chooses a nominee. Here is what he said this afternoon.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The model, a pretty good model, was President Clinton and Orrin Hatch and others. President Clinton would call Senator Hatch, who was the head Republican of Judiciary, give him some names. Hatch would consult with other members of the Republican caucus, and come back and say, "This one's good, this one's no good, this one's no good." And that's why President Clinton got two nominees right through.


ANGLE: Now, Senator Schumer seems to be suggesting the president needs to call up and run names by members of the Judiciary Committee. What's your take on that?

CORNYN: Well, the president has indicated that he's more than willing to listen to suggestions that senators have. But he's certainly not obligated to run names by any senator or the Senate as a whole if he has a nominee to make — a nomination to make. He will propose that nominee and the Senate will do its job and vote them up or vote them down.

ANGLE: Even if he doesn't have the obligation, is it politically wise?

CORNYN: Well, I think there's some — it depends. If someone's meeting you in good faith in the middle. But if it's going to be a game of gotcha, as so much of the confirmation process have been over the last few years, then I think it's not wise.

ANGLE: Well, that raises the question, if the president were to run names by someone, if he ran a name by Senator Schumer, and he said, "No way," then where would the president be?

CORNYN: Well, that would not be a positive thing. I'm sure that name would ultimately be leaked to the press. It would be a source of embarrassment.

And here, again, the politics in Washington are pretty tough. And I think the president would be wise to do what I know he will do, and that is to play it straight, choose a well-qualified nominee, and then let the Senate do its work.

ANGLE: All right, let's talk about timing. The president says he will not name anyone until he comes back from his trip next week, that would be the end of next week. We have a couple of minutes left here. How many weeks does it take for you to get ready for hearings?

CORNYN: Well, I'm sure a lot of work has already been done, both at the White House and elsewhere. And, of course, Chairman Specter of the Judiciary Committee, the ranking member, Pat Leahy, will have the responsibility for setting the hearings, the chairman will, and then we will have those hearings, perhaps in August. As you know, we have a recess then. But, really, that calls up to Senator Specter. But I...

ANGLE: And it's not clear yet whether the Senate would stay in or whether it might come back early, right?

CORNYN: That's correct. But I know the goal is to make sure that by the time that the court meets in October, after its summer recess, that hopefully we would have a successor confirmed.

ANGLE: Now, you said you had concerns, if the president were to name somebody early, and then the Senate goes away for better than a month, that it would leave that person out there hanging like a piñata for opponents to beat up on.

CORNYN: Well, I was engaging in that great Washington past time of speculation. And of course, the question was, when the vacancy would occur, who it would be? And the idea was, if it was right up to the August recess, whether it would make sense for the president to nominate someone, leave them hanging for everyone to take a shot at, and then to only have us come back in September.

The problem would be, the potential Bork problem, where opponents of the nominee would be able to characterize the nominee disadvantageously during that time.

ANGLE: But if the president named someone at the end of next week, which would be the earliest, it would take four to six weeks to get the paperwork done. You'd be talking about mid-August at the earliest. So you really wouldn't have that person hanging out there for very long, right?

CORNYN: Well, I assure you that I and others will make sure that the opponents of the president's nominee will not have a chance to mischaracterize the nominee or their record in a way that makes it hard to defend. We're going to be responding on a timely basis.

ANGLE: Well, and having the Senate out of town probably keeps the temperature down a little bit, too. So Senator Cornyn, thank you very much, sir.

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