- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Senate Republicans expect to confirm a new Supreme Court justice before the end of summer if a member of the high court retires later this month as expected by some on Capitol Hill.

Those plans include possibly using the “nuclear option” if Democrats filibuster a nominee, said several top Senate Republican staffers.

The “nuclear option” would stop filibusters through parliamentary procedures that — in the end — would require a simple majority. Such maneuvers, considered “nuclear” because of the expected nasty fallout, have been attempted only a small number of times in Senate history.

“A Democratic filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee is a whole different matter,” said one staffer. “If they do that, then that puts us in the position of nuclear response. What we’d be contemplating is the net effect of shutting down the Senate for the rest of the year.”

Recalling the failed Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork and the highly contentious confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, the staffer said, “Unlike with Bork or Thomas, Republicans control the nomination process. Senator Hatch will determine when hearings are held and Senator Frist controls when it comes to the floor and if we have an August recess.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, have made getting the confirmations of President Bush’s nominees a top priority. Democrats are filibustering two Bush nominations to lower federal courts — and both sides view that standoff as a precursor to the looming battle over a Supreme Court seat.

An informal list of possible Supreme Court nominees has been floating around Republican circles. Many of those names have landed in the hands of opposition groups, who are actively researching backgrounds for vulnerabilities.

“We are doing extensive research on a lot of possible nominees,” said Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights group influential in judicial selections.

At the top of most lists is Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and a friend of Mr. Bush’s. Ironically, the former Texas Supreme Court justice is opposed by some conservatives because he has said the landmark Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion is settled law.

Also on the list are Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. But in recent weeks, Republican insiders have said Mr. Estrada and Justice Owen are unlikely as contenders because both of their nominations to lower federal courts are being filibustered by Democrats.

Republican interest in seeing the first Hispanic reach the Supreme Court has given extra credence to 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Emilio Garza. Another on the list who would be a first for the court is black California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown.

The list includes 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson III and Michael Luttig, and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Danny Boggs. Rounding out the list of conservatives under consideration is 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito Jr. and Solicitor General Theodore Olsen.

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