Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, will lord over the nomination hearings as the president seeks to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced last week that he is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Talk of a filibuster on any nomination made by President Barack Obama, says Leahy, is just that for now — talk.
"I would be absolutely amazed if there was a filibuster," said Leahy. "It would be virtually unprecedented. But, if there was one, the Senate would not stand for it."
Leahy should know. In 2006, he joined 23 Democratic colleagues, including Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, in voting against cloture during the nomination process of Justice Samuel Alito.
By voting against cloture, Leahy and his colleagues hoped to delay Alito's confirmation vote. But, to conduct a filibuster, 41 Senators need to oppose a cloture motion.
Leahy said their effort was not a filibuster; it was an attempt to slow down the process, not stop it entirely.
"That was a symbolic vote, and we were really just delaying the nomination two to three weeks," said Leahy, who opposed Alito's confirmation. Leahy did support, however, the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts.
"I tell my colleagues, 'Don't get stuck on the idea of a Democratic nominee or a Republican nominee,'" said Leahy. "I want a nominee who represents all of us — all Americans. I tell them not to listen to the far right or the far left, but to listen to Americans."
Leahy will meet with President Obama and other Senate leaders next week at the White House to discuss the confirmation timetable and process. Joining Leahy will be Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Leahy told a group of Vermont reporters this afternoon at a press conference in the lobby of the Hilton that he hopes Obama nominates a justice with "real-world" experience, akin to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the nation's highest court last year.
"We have too much of an isolated judicial monastery," said Leahy. "I think that what's he going to look for is someone with some understanding of how decisions affect real Americans."
Leahy said there is "some concern that this has been a conservative activist court." He pointed to recent rulings that sided with corporations in age discrimination, gender pay, environmental and campaign finance lawsuits.
So will Leahy use similar cases as his "litmus test" for a nominee? He says no.
"I use those as a reflection. I don't use those as a litmus test, and I have never used a litmus test for any Supreme Court nominee," said Leahy, who has voted on every current sitting Supreme Court Justice. He is one of three sitting senators who was in the Senate when Stevens was nominated by Republican Pres. Gerald Ford.
Stevens' confirmation hearing took two and a half weeks. Leahy expects hearings to replace Stevens to take much longer.
Leahy said he had a lengthy conversation with Justice John Paul Stevens earlier this year, and afterward met with Pres. Obama. After his meeting with the president, Leahy noted, the White House stepped up its efforts to line up a replacement for Stevens.
Today's Huffington Post has a story on that aspect of Stevens' retirement and Leahy's role in alerting the White House.
Leahy has forwarded names to Pres. Obama to consider, but he would not say whom he has recommended.
Last year's confirmation hearings for Sotomayor were the first Leahy presided over as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.