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GOP presses for a conservative court nominee

President Bush neared a decision on a new nominee for the Supreme Court as Republican lawmakers suggested Sunday he should pick a solid conservative with a track record as a judge.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush neared a decision on a new nominee for the Supreme Court as Republican lawmakers suggested Sunday he should pick a solid conservative with a track record as a judge.

But the Senate’s top Democrat raised the possibility of “a lot of problems” if Bush settles on federal appeals judge Samuel Alito to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing voter on abortion and other social issues.

Others said to be under consideration include federal appeals court judges J. Michael Luttig, Karen Williams, Priscilla Owen and Alice Batchelder as well as Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan.

Lott: Shake-up needed at White House
A leading Republican senator suggested a staff shake-up at the White House, saying Harriet Miers’ nomination might have failed partly because there “wasn’t enough consultation or enough good, strong people ... advising the president.”

“You’ve got to reach out and bring in more advice and counsel,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

A nominee perceived by Democrats as extremely right-wing could provoke a bitter confirmation fight and possible filibuster, given the increasingly hardened positions over a woman’s right to have an abortion, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said.

“You have both sides poles apart and insistent on finding some answer to that question in advance of the hearing, which no one is entitled to,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

With the expectation that Bush probably will turn to a sitting judge, it was Alito’s name that was mentioned often on the Sunday talk shows.

Will next nominee be ‘Scalia-lite’?
A judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Alito has been dubbed “Scalito” or “Scalia-lite” by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s.

“That is not one of the names that I’ve suggested to the president,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told “Late Edition” on CNN. “In fact, I’ve done the opposite. I think it would create a lot of problems.”

Reid said Bush would be making a “mistake” were he to settle on a hard-liner simply to appease the far right in his party, especially after conservatives’ wrath undermined Miers’ nomination.

To avoid a repeat of Miers’ failed bid, Bush’s nominee will need the support from conservatives that Miers lacked and backing from moderates to escape a Senate filibuster.

Competing visions
American Values President Gary Bauer, a prominent conservative, said he would support a nominee such as Alito as well as federal appeals judges Janice Rogers Brown and Emilio Garza because they are proven conservatives who would strictly interpret the Constitution.

“For me, the criteria has to be to find that individual that has the right philosophy and the right experience to get through a confirmation process,” Bauer said. “There are women that fit those characterizations. There are Hispanics, African-Americans.”

Reid and other Democrats said that Bush, given his low poll numbers, should nominate a consensus candidate rather than someone selected specifically to rally his conservative base.

“I think the American people can see through this so clearly. The president should come forward with some middle-of-the-road person, somebody that is going to be a good Supreme Court justice, not somebody that’s going to be writing the law from the bench,” Reid said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., refused to rule out a Senate filibuster.

The selection of someone with extreme views will not bode well “for the nomination, for the Supreme Court or for his presidency,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”