June 19, 2005


War Rooms (and Chests) Ready for a Supreme Court Vacancy (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 6/20/05, NY Times)

Like hostile nations on the edge of apocalypse, Washington's political right and left are on code red over a Supreme Court vacancy that does not yet exist.

Conservative groups held a briefing last week at the National Press Club and promised to spend more than $20 million promoting whomever President Bush nominates to replace Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, should the ailing chief justice retire at the end of the court's term in June, as many expect. The liberal group People for the American Way countered with the threat of its 45-computer war room on M Street and a coalition of 70 other groups to fight back.

Caught in the middle was the White House, which had its own war plan but would not say so publicly for fear of looking ghoulish. After all, the intentions of the 80-year-old chief justice, who has undergone radiation and chemotherapy treatments for thyroid cancer, remain mysterious. [...]

At the White House, the plan is to run the campaign for Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominee out of the office of Harriet Miers, the low-profile White House counsel, once described by Mr. Bush as "a pit bull in Size 6 shoes." Ms. Miers will get a heavy assist from the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, where the attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, has himself been widely mentioned as a candidate for the Supreme Court, although probably not for the first vacancy under Mr. Bush.

In the meantime, Republicans close to the preparations say that the White House has assembled research on some 20 Supreme Court candidates, with more intensive research on a handful of the most mentioned, all federal appellate judges and all conservative: J. Michael Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson III of Virginia, Michael W. McConnell of Colorado, John G. Roberts Jr. of the District of Columbia, Samuel A. Alito Jr. of New Jersey and Emilio M. Garza of Texas.The White House also plans mock hearings in which the nominee will field aggressive questions from a "murder board," or a phalanx of lawyers and administration officials playing senators on the Judiciary Committee. Such hearings were conducted for Mr. Thomas and have even been conducted for some of the current administration's appellate court nominees, like Mr. McConnell.

The White House plans to name a point person to manage the process and to create an additional war room on Capitol Hill, in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Specter or Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a Texas Republican. Mr. Cornyn's name was recently floated by conservatives as a long-shot possibility for the court; last week he said that it might be better for Mr. Bush to announce his nominee in September and not leave the person "hanging out like a piƱata for people to take a whack at during the month we're in recess."

Other Republicans discount that option and say that Mr. Bush will move swiftly to name a nominee once a vacancy is announced, when the White House will switch to all-out campaign mode.

The real fun comes if a Stevens or a Souter retires.

If High Court Vacancy Opens, Activists Are Poised for Battle: With past judicial fights in mind, interest groups have new tactics ready if Rehnquist retires soon. (Janet Hook, June 20, 2005, LA Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2005 10:46 PM

Or a Ginsberg - health problems, you know.

Posted by: obc at June 19, 2005 10:54 PM

Are you kidding? Not one of these people will resign (except maybe Thomas around 2025). They're going to inflict themselves on us until someone has to pull the feeding tubes one by one.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 20, 2005 3:28 PM

Here's Ted Kennedy being quoted in a Bloomberg article.

He added that he thinks that two sitting justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, "would be completely troublesome" as nominees. He ruled out any possibility of Thomas being selected, while acknowledging that Scalia might be harder to defeat.

Posted by: Genecis at June 20, 2005 4:56 PM

Neither has a shot anyway.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2005 5:02 PM

The LAT piece doesn't say much about new tactics, just old battles. Sure, the Democrats can say that Bush's appointee has two heads and eats young children, but will the spirits heed the call? Unlikely. And with Frist determined to have a vote, unless Specter acts like he did in 1987, the President's nominee will be approved.

The real danger is if Bush fails to get in front of the wave of hatred, as almost happened with Thomas. Alan Simpson (and Danforth) saved him then, with a timely assist from Specter. Plus, Kennedy was neutered on the sex stuff because of his past.

8 weeks, nomination to vote. No more. If it goes longer than 10 or 11 weeks, watch out. The bed-wetters (Voinovich, McCain, Graham, etc.) will be in charge then. And they won't let go.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 21, 2005 12:00 AM