Sunday, July 17, 2005

State Republican leaders want President Bush to name a solid conservative to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and say they are more confident than ever that he will do just that.

Interviews with Republican Party chairmen across the country found that they think Mr. Bush will not abandon his determination to move the court in a more conservative direction. If he did, they say, it would disappoint and discourage his political base.

“I’m hoping that he sticks with a solid conservative,” said Ron Carey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

“Republican activists in Minnesota are solidly conservative, and we would be disappointed if he nominated someone in the mode of O’Connor,” who was often a swing vote between the high court’s liberal and conservative blocs. “If he nominates a moderate, I think it’s going to discourage some of the party’s base.”

Ohio’s party chairman, Robert Bennett, echoed that view, saying, “The president has sent strong signals that he is going to put a strong conservative on the Supreme Court, and that’s what I think he’s going to do.”

Asked what he thought of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the president’s longtime adviser and close political ally, Mr. Bennett said, “He would be a good candidate,” but he favored 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Deborah L. Cook.

“She would be good, and we don’t have an Ohioan on the court.”

Judge Cook, who was appointed to the circuit court in 2003 by Mr. Bush, is a former Ohio state Supreme Court judge who is described as having “firmly conservative credentials.”

Most party chairman declined to say who they supported to replace Justice O’Connor, but Pennsylvania party Chairman Eileen Melvin said she, too, would “like to see a woman nominated.”

“There are many qualified women judges out there who are potential Supreme Court nominees,” she said.

As for Mr. Gonzales, whose views on abortion have triggered opposition among social conservatives, Ms. Melvin said, “The attorney general is actually a good guy and very qualified.”

Most party chairmen expressed confidence that Mr. Bush would make the right choice.

“I trust his judgment. He and his advisers seem capable of picking the right nominee, of making the proper calculations on the political merits and the political equation,” said Chairman Warren Henderson of New Hampshire.

And most want Mr. Bush and the Senate to move swiftly in naming and confirming a nominee.

“I talk to party activists, and they want the president and Senate to move quickly on this and give whoever is the nominee a quick up-or-down vote,” said Wisconsin party Chairman Richard Graber.

Mr. Graber added that all this “reaching-out business” by which Mr. Bush is being pressed to seek the advice of Senate Democrats in the selection process has been unnecessarily excessive.

“The last time I checked, this was the president’s call. The Senate does not pick the nominee. I frankly think the Democrats are taking their ‘advise and consent’ power too far.”

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