The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says he's inclined against using a filibuster to block President Barack Obama's nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said a deal among centrist senators four yours ago that averted filibusters against some of former President George W. Bush's judicial nominees established a "standard" that shouldn't be discarded except in unusual circumstances. Sessions, however, didn't entirely rule out a filibuster.
"I think it should not be often used," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Sessions said that Obama assured him in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday that he was not planning to nominate a "bomb-thrower." The senator said he told Obama that Republicans would treat his nominee with respect and said that "we're not going to misrepresent their record."
Sessions said they did not discuss any potential nominees.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama also discussed the nomination Wednesday morning with two other Senate Judiciary Republicans, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Republicans promoted Sessions to their top slot on the Judiciary Committee Tuesday, making the conservative Southerner their point man for the nomination process after Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania defected from the GOP last week.
Sessions has acknowledged that his party is so weakened that it might not have the votes to sustain a filibuster even if it wants to.
Under Senate rules, a single senator can mount a filibuster by objecting to consideration of a bill or nominee. It takes a 60-vote supermajority to overcome the filibuster so a final vote can be taken. Democrats now hold 59 votes in the Senate with Specter's defection and two Democratic-voting independents. There is one open seat in the Senate with Norm Coleman and Al Franken fighting in court over the right to be the Minnesota senator.
Souter announced his retirement last week.
Obama wants to have his eventual nominee confirmed and in place for the Supreme Court session that will begin in October.