Senators Offer Suggestions for Supreme Court Vacancy

9-21-05 - Leading senators floated the names of about a dozen candidates to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's vacancy on the Supreme Court, but President Bush kept his list to himself at a White House breakfast Wednesday.

Talking to reporters outside the Executive Mansion, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said he thinks the next nomination will be more contentious than the confirmation process for John Roberts.

Specter said he suggested that the president delay picking O'Connor's replacement until more is known about Roberts, who is likely to be confirmed soon as chief justice, succeeding the late William H. Rehnquist. Specter also said, however, that Bush didn't seem to embrace that idea.

"The president was noncommittal," the Pennsylvania Republican said afterward. "The body language was not very positive."

The senators did not identify the prospective justices they suggested to the president. Among candidates widely mentioned are: federal appellate judges Priscilla Richman Owen, Edith Brown Clement, Edith Holland Jones, Emilio Garza, Edward Charles Prado, Alice Batchelder, Karen Williams, Janice Rogers Brown, J. Michael Luttig, J. Harvie Wilkinson, Michael McConnell and Samuel Alito.

The meeting, just a day before the Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to recommend Roberts' confirmation, was similar to one that Bush held in July, one week before he nominated Roberts to fill O'Connor's shoes. Bush later offered Roberts for the higher job _ to be chief justice of the United States.

"I have raised a certain cautionary signal," Specter said, "but I believe the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious than the Roberts' nomination. I say that because, bubbling just below the surface was a lot of frustration in the hearing that we just concluded."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Miss., said the session marked the formal beginning of consultations between the White House and Capitol Hill on the additional vacant seat, although Bush advisers previously held informal discussions with senators on the second nomination.

Frist said he advised the president not to embrace Specter's idea for him to delay the second nomination. He said if Bush's second nomination came quickly, the Senate would be able to handle that nomination in a timely fashion. "I believe we can do it by Thanksgiving, if that nomination comes quickly enough," Frist said.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who said Tuesday he will oppose Roberts' confirmation, said Bush seemed open to the senators' suggestions, but said the discussion was one-way. He said, however, that he thought it was a "good start," and felt as if White House counsel Harriet Miers' door was open to senators.

"There was a discussion of names," the Nevada Democrat said. "It was mainly our suggesting names to him and talking about names to him. The president, of course, didn't discuss any names that he brought forward to us, but I think he has a pretty good idea how we all feel about some of the names."

Naming the first Hispanic to the court would make history and boost GOP efforts to woo the fast-growing voting bloc.

The list of Hispanic candidates includes: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, federal appellate judges Emilio Garza and Edward Charles Prado, along with Miguel Estrada, a conservative young lawyer whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was thwarted by Senate Democrats.

Other candidates include Larry Thompson, the federal government's highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush's first term, and Maura Corrigan, a member of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Leahy urged the president to consider non-judges and refrain from nominating someone who would be a "lightning rod" _ a justice who would represent just one segment of society, or one segment of the Republican Party. If he did, that could deadlock the Senate and possibly even result in a filibuster, Leahy warned.

"We all recognize the fact that Judge Roberts will be confirmed as chief justice," Leahy said.

"But the next one is the one everybody worries about and again I urge, as I have before, I urge the president to be a uniter not a divider," he said.

The Supreme Court doesn't exist for either political party, but for all 280 million Americans, Leahy said, adding that Bush might want to fill the second vacancy with someone who is not already a judge.

"You should be able to look that court and say `I'm going to get a fair shake.' I may win. I may lose, but it's going to be based on my case and not who I am or what my political leanings might be," he said.

Specter said he was concerned about the balance of power between Congress and the court. He said that O'Connor to stay on the court for awhile would give the nation a chance to better understand Roberts' judicial philosophy.

"There is a possibility of a third vacancy with Justice (John Paul) Stevens, that has been rumored," Specter said. "He is 85, but in good health. But if that comes in the next year _ with three new justices _ a shift in the court. And that's a problem for both the right and the left."

Specter said he has talked to O'Connor about staying on through the June term. "I talked to her and she's prepared to do that. It would be quite a sacrifice for her, but she's prepared to do it if she is asked. By next June we'll know a lot more about Judge Roberts ... than we do today."