WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama met with bipartisan Senate leaders on Wednesday to get their input on making a Supreme Court nomination to fill the vacancy left by retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. in the Oval Office on Wednesday to discuss the vacancy.
Before the meeting, Obama made remarks thanking the bipartisan leaders for undertaking a "smooth, civil, thoughtful" process with his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor last May.
"My hope is, is that we can do the exact same thing this time," Obama said.
He said he wants to have a nominee by early May and secure the confirmation by the start of the fall session.
In his remarks, Obama called Stevens "one of the finest Supreme Court Justices that we've seen."
Obama has expressed the view that he is looking for a candidate outside the traditional "judicial monastery," a term used by Leahy.
In a press briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that Obama is looking for "somebody who understands how the law affects real people in the real world, not just in a classroom, not just at a school."
When asked Wednesday if he would nominate a pro-life candidate, Obama answered,
"I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction." He continued, "I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues."
"But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights."
Following the meeting, Obama called nine members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the delegation that will host confirmation hearings.
He made calls to Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Arlen Specter of Arizona, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jon Kyl of Arizona.
Gibbs would not say whether Obama was narrowing down his list of a potential 10 or so nominees.
After meeting with Obama on Wednesday, Leahy issued a statement criticizing the current makeup of the Supreme Court as partisan and activist.
"A recent pattern has emerged of Supreme Court decisions by a slim, activist, conservative majority," Leahy stated. "These opinions have not followed the law, but have overridden congressional intent and misconstrued laws designed to protect the American people, tilting the scales of justice in favor of corporate rights and against the rights of individual citizens."
In response to whether or not the president agreed with this assessment and if he would look for a candidate accordingly, Gibbs said Obama is looking for "somebody who has a fidelity to the law, somebody who is independent, and somebody who has the legal stature necessary."
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