Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bush hears warnings about next court nominee


Bush hears warnings about next court nominee

By Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate leaders warned President George W. Bush on Wednesday his next Supreme Court nominee will likely face a far more contentious confirmation battle than conservative John Roberts, who is poised to become U.S. chief justice.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, emerged from a White House meeting to say he had advised Bush to hold off on making his second nomination for the court in order to see how Roberts performed as chief justice.

Specter said Bush should ask retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to stay on through the court's coming October-June term. He said he spoke to her and she agreed to stay if asked.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan made clear Bush would not accept the proposal. He said O'Connor had expressed her desire to retire and Bush would pick her replacement soon.

Roberts, nominated by Bush to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist who died on September 3, appeared headed toward easy Senate confirmation on September 29 after the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democratic, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, announced he would vote in favor.

The committee is expected to recommend Roberts to the full Senate in a vote on Thursday.

Leahy's decision came a day after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he would oppose Roberts.

"Judge Roberts is a man of integrity. I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda," Leahy said.

Bush is considering a diverse group of candidates to replace O'Connor and was expected to announce his choice in the days after Roberts is confirmed.


A tougher fight is expected over Bush's next nominee because O'Connor is a moderate conservative who has been the swing vote on the often bitterly divided court and her replacement could alter the balance of power.

"I have raised a certain cautionary signal, that I believe the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious than the Roberts nomination," Specter said.

Bubbling below the surface is a lot of frustration at the Roberts confirmation hearing, said Specter, after the conservative appeals court judge refused to say how he would rule on important legal cases like abortion rights.

As part of the consultation process, Bush met Specter, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican; Reid and Leahy.

Specter and Reid both warned Bush that he could expect opposition if he nominated any of the 10 federal appeals court candidates blocked by Democrats during his first term, congressional aides said.

They include Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, who won Senate confirmation this year as part of a high-stakes, bipartisan truce. Both have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusett Democrats, said with the country divided and Bush perhaps thinking about his legacy, he hoped Bush would pick someone who unites Americans.

"Many of us are hoping that he will take advantage of it," Kennedy said. "Whether he will or not, I don't know."

Frist said he urged Bush to announce his nominee in the next 10 days in hopes of having the person confirmed by the Thanksgiving holiday in late November.

Reid said the senators recommended to Bush about a dozen names of possible candidates to replace O'Connor, including women and minorities.

Bush offered no names of his own, the senators said.

The president said this month, however, that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a close friend, was among those he was considering as part of a wide open search.