Monday, September 5, 2005

President Bush yesterday vowed to move swiftly to appoint a replacement for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

“There are now two vacancies on the Supreme Court, and it will serve the best interests of the nation to fill those vacancies promptly,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “I will choose in a timely manner a highly qualified nominee to succeed Chief Justice Rehnquist.”

With the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, Mr. Bush is the first president to have two high court vacancies at the same time since President Nixon faced such a situation in 1971.

Republicans yesterday said a second vacancy should not complicate the nomination of Appeals Court Judge John G. Roberts Jr., who Mr. Bush named in July to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. But Democrats yesterday called for the Senate to postpone Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin tomorrow, and focus on hurricane relief and honoring Justice Rehnquist.

Mr. Bush acted swiftly in July, when he nominated Judge Roberts just 18 days after Justice O’Connor announced her retirement.

Having named a conservative white man to replace Justice O’Connor, the president will face pressure to appoint a woman or a minority, especially a Hispanic, to fill the new vacancy.

Several contenders who made the short list during the White House’s candidate hunt to fill the O’Connor vacancy have re-emerged on the top of the list. First among them is Alberto R. Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant who now holds the post of attorney general.

Also on the list are Edith Hollan Jones and Edith Brown Clement, both judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. Judge Clement was interviewed by top White House officials for the O’Connor slot, and Judge Jones was said to have been a front-runner for the position as well.

Also on the list is Judge Emilio Garza, also of the 5th Circuit. Appointed to his current post by the first President Bush, Mr. Garza was reportedly considered as a potential nominee in 1991 to the Supreme Court seat that went to Clarence Thomas.

Many candidates are on the long list of potential nominees, but there are myriad combinations that make odds-making nearly impossible.

First, Mr. Bush could amend his nomination of Judge Roberts — whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin tomorrow — naming him to the chief justice job. Or Mr. Bush could elevate a current justice to the top post, with the odds-on favorite being either Justice Antonin Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas.

If a sitting justice is elevated to chief justice, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have to hold a separate hearing on that appointment, as well as two more hearings — one to replace the justice newly elevated to chief and another on Judge Roberts.

Another option for Mr. Bush is to nominate as chief justice someone who is not on the court, which would give him the greatest possibility of making history should he choose a woman or a Hispanic, because neither has ever led the Supreme Court.

The White House was extremely secretive throughout the process that produced the nomination of Judge Roberts. There were about a dozen candidates on the short list, and in the weeks before Mr. Bush named his nominee on July 18, he interviewed Judge Roberts, Judge Clement and J. Harvie Wilkinson III, appointed to 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Reagan in 1984.

Having vetted several candidates to replace Justice O’Connor, Mr. Bush does not need to interview them again.

The court candidates mentioned most often also include federal Appeals Court Judges Samuel Alito, J. Michael Luttig and Michael McConnell.

The president may also reconsider two women — Janice Rogers Brown, who is black, and Priscilla R. Owen — who are newly minted appeals court judges. New names have also emerged — Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general who is black and now a top lawyer for PepsiCo; Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University professor; Alice M. Batchelder of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati; Deborah Cook, a former Ohio Supreme Court judge, whom the president appointed to the 6th Circuit; Deanell Reece Tacha of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver; Karen Williams from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond; and Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, offered by Senate Democrats.

Other contenders are Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mel Martinez of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas and Mike DeWine of Ohio.

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