Video: Court positioning strategy

msnbc.com
updated 7/1/2005 11:30:34 AM ET 2005-07-01T15:30:34

Before the end of the Supreme Court's session, MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell outlined what the Bush Administration would do in the case of a retirement.

With the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor on Friday, here's a look at O'Donnell's report on how the White House may proceed.

I'm told that the White House has already put together a road map to ensure a successful confirmation process, including a White House war room that will include a top political strategist.

The current group of justices has  served together for more than a decade, the longest period without a single retirement since the 1820s.

Those familiar with White House plans say President Bush has directed his administration to prepare for a potential vacancy.

The first rule for a successful confirmation, say experts, is to move quickly.

"I expect 48 to 72 hours to be the window -- two to three days," said Brad Berenson, former White House Counsel.

"Faster confirmation is better for the nominee, better for the president.  Slower is better for the president's adversaries and the nominee's adversaries," Berenson added.

Case in point, the Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.

Thomas had cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and was headed toward a full vote in the Senate, but then the explosive charges of sexual harassment by Anita Hill led to unprecedented hearings.

Rule number two is to prevent leaks, which insider's say could easily scuttle a candidate's chances.

That's one reason officials say there is no short list of names inside the White House.

"There's no such thing as an official short list," Berenson said, noting that "fear of leaks" is the primary reason.

"The White House, as everyone knows, is allergic to leaks and deeply afraid of them," Berenson said.

The final rule is to consult with Congress, which the president has pledged to do.

"I look forward to talking to the Senate about the Supreme Court process, to get their opinions as well," Bush said.

Democrats argue that early consultation would make it less likely there would be a battle royal like those over Judge Robert Bork and Thomas.

"I'd urge the president to follow through on his commitment to consult with the Senate," Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

Instead, they argue, there would be calmer hearings, like those for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

In the changed environment since the last appointment 11 years ago, that may be wishful thinking. Interest groups on both sides have raised millions of dollars in order to support or oppose the president's choice to fill a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.

That's one reason we're told the White House is handling this very differently than in the past. They're setting up this war room that will include a top political strategist as well as a communications expert in order to make sure that they can move this through the Senate quickly and successfully.

"The clamor for consultation is really a trap," Berenson said. "It's not truly a recipe for making peace over a nomination. It's a gambit by the Democrats to put a weapon in their own hands by which to make war over a nomination."

"I think liberal groups are primed to attack almost anybody the president appoints," Taylor added.

Norah O'Donnell is MSNBC's Chief Washington Correspondent.

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