updated 6/28/2005 6:39:44 PM ET 2005-06-28T22:39:44

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he’s been talking to Democratic leader Harry Reid about nominees for a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court but doesn’t have any inside information on whom President Bush might nominate.

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“Have Senator Reid and I talked about individual names? Yes, we have in the privacy of our regular meetings,” Frist said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. He wouldn’t say whom he and Reid had discussed or characterize their chances in front of the Senate.

Reid later offered three names of people he said would be good for the court: GOP Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Mike Crapo of Indiana. They “are people who serve in the Senate now who are Republicans who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members,” Reid said.

Reid also said that in a conversation with the justices last week, they said that “they thought what would be a good idea is to start calling people from outside the judicial system.”

“I think that’s something that we should listen to. And I’ve conveyed this to anyone that will listen,” Reid said.

Fourteen senators have served on the Supreme Court. The revolving door has turned the other way only once: David Davis resigned from the court in 1877 to represent Illinois in the Senate as an independent.

Democrats sent a letter to the White House last week asking for Bush to consult with them on making a Supreme Court pick. “To this stage, there hasn’t been much. But I’m confident there will be,” Reid said.

Frist: Process has started
Frist said the White House has already started. “I think the president and the administration have reached out to solicit names and solicit ideas,” Frist said. “I don’t want to speak for the administration, but I know that’s being done. They are reaching out for suggestions.”

Court watchers expect a Supreme Court vacancy during Bush’s second term. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer, and there is talk that Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and John Paul Stevens, 85, also might consider stepping down.

Frist said that senators are still negotiating on exactly how a Supreme Court confirmation process would go, since more than half of the current senators were not there for the last confirmation.

56 recent senators
Fifty-six senators, including nine members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, were not in the Senate when Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was confirmed in July 1994.

“So, we’re spending a lot of time at the senator level and at the staff level looking at the different phases of the nomination process,” said Frist, who also wasn’t around for the last Supreme Court nomination.

Frist called upon Democrats to not filibuster judicial nominees. “Senators should treat every nominee with dignity and respect and give them the courtesy of an up-or-down vote. And that includes any potential Supreme Court nominee, should there be a vacancy,” Frist said.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called on Bush to pick a consensus candidate if a vacancy comes open. “Americans want to be brought together around this decision, but Bill Frist wants to divide our country to serve his own political goals,” she said.

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