President Bush is holding a short list of candidates, believed topped by women and minorities, to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court and join new Chief Justice John Roberts.
Bush, it was thought, would appoint his second nominee soon after the Senate confirmed Roberts on Thursday to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist.
White House advisers now say an announcement probably will not come until next week. That timeline allows the spotlight to remain on the administration’s success in getting Roberts confirmed in a 78-22 vote and promptly sworn in.
Advocacy groups on the right are expecting Bush to name a solid conservative. Liberal groups are making a late push for a moderate.
Senate Democrats say if the president submits the name of any previous judicial nominee whom they have filibustered — including federal appellate judges Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada — they will fight to the bitter end.
Bush did not offer any hints during the swearing-in ceremony for Roberts.
Roberts said the Senate’s bipartisan vote for him was “confirmation of what is for me a bedrock principle — that judging is different from politics.”
All of the Senate’s 55 Republicans, half of the 44 Democrats and independent James Jeffords of Vermont supported him.
Roberts’ confirmation came ahead of the court’s new term, which begins Monday.
As for Bush’s list of prospects, “it’s not that long,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Legal activists in contact with the White House suggest the list has been narrowed to about five or six candidates — appeals court judges and perhaps some who have never sat on the bench.
Stakes 'particularly high'
Conservatives hope Bush’s nominee will shift the court to the right.
Replacing Rehnquist with Roberts is expected to keep the court’s current balance. Installing a strong conservative to succeed the more moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor could tilt the court to the right.
“The stakes are particularly high with the replacement for O’Connor, a mainstream conservative who often provided the decisive vote to uphold many rights and protections,” said Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way.
The group urged the president on Thursday to find a consensus nominee and suggested four federal appellate judges: Ann Williams, Sonia Sotomayor, Jose Cabranes and Edward Prado.
“There are a number of distinguished judges — first appointed to the federal bench by Republican presidents — who would, like Sandra Day O’Connor, likely receive overwhelming bipartisan support to replace her,” Neas said.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Judicial Confirmation Network notes that Bush has a record of nominating individuals with conservative judicial philosophies for the appeals court. Also, despite opposition from Senate Democrats, many of Bush’s conservative nominees eventually were confirmed.
“I’m hoping and expecting the president will stay on track as he has been in the past five years because it’s succeeding now better than it ever has before,” said Wendy Long, counsel for the group, which is backing Bush’s picks. “Why in heaven’s name would you reverse course?”
Mentioned most frequently in recent days are appeals court judges Owen, Karen Williams and Alice Batchelder; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan; White House counsel Harriet Miers; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; and PepsiCo lawyer Larry Thompson, who was the government’s highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush’s first term.
Others mentioned less frequently include appeals court judges J. Michael Luttig, Edith Jones, Samuel Alito, Michael McConnell and Consuelo Callahan.
Callahan, like Gonzales, is Hispanic. There has never been a Hispanic Supreme Court justice.