July 8, 2005


GOP Plots Court Strategy With Rehnquist in Mind (Peter Baker, 7/08/05, Washington Post)

Talk of a possible Rehnquist retirement has reached full boil again as Republican strategists mapped out plans for how to tackle a double nomination. Advisers inside and outside the White House are discussing how to select two potential nominees, how they might match or balance each other and how to sequence their confirmation hearings.

"We're prepared for every contingency," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Rehnquist has made no announcement. "If it's multiple candidates, we'll be ready."

If Rehnquist decides to step down, President Bush will have the opportunity to put a decisive personal stamp on a closely divided Supreme Court that has seen no turnover for the past 11 years. Such a scenario would almost certainly escalate the high-decibel, high-dollar political showdown both sides already expect.

Twin vacancies would present Bush with an intriguing choice: Does he use the opportunity to appoint two reliable conservatives who would shift the court away from what he sees as improper judicial activism on divisive issues such as abortion, religion in public life and gay rights? Or does he try to balance competing impulses by filling one seat with a conservative who would strictly interpret the Constitution and the other with his friend, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is less favored by the right but would be the first Hispanic on the nation's highest court? [...]

[B]ush has different calculations for a chief justice than for O'Connor's seat. In looking for a chief justice, some White House advisers said, they would consider management experience and look for a deeper legal résumé than for an associate justice.

If Rehnquist does retire, the advisers said, then the White House must decide whether to fill his seat first and let a replacement for O'Connor go second as she indicated in her retirement letter that she would continue to serve until a successor is confirmed. And Bush must decide whether to package a staunch conservative with a less conservative nominee such as Gonzales in hopes of satisfying various constituencies enough to ease confirmation, or to favor a bolder approach by advancing two reliable conservatives.

If Rehnquist does not retire right away, Bush faces a similar choice, in that he could go with a conservative first and wait to nominate Gonzales for the next opening, or the other way around. But in picking an O'Connor replacement now, he would have to hold back the nominee he actually wants for chief justice.

"I may be totally wrong on this, but I think he means to change the court and that he would not be sending a balancer-type candidate," said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a leading conservative voice in Washington. "Now it could be that friendship with Gonzales outweighs that. I don't know. But in the discussions I've had with him, he seems generally committed to changing the composition of the court."

The Garza/Gonzales combo sounds delicious. Then Janice Rogers Brown for the Stevens seat....

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Is it just barely possible that this whole Gonzales thing is a ruse?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 8, 2005 12:43 AM

Of course. But whose?

Posted by: ghostcat at July 8, 2005 12:51 AM


Sure. Gonzales supposedly wants to run for Governor of Texas, not serve on the Court. Keeping his name alive is a good way to get both extremes to waste their breath. Witness the hyperventilating here.

Posted by: oj at July 8, 2005 12:59 AM


Why bother getting some on the Right to waste their breath? Maybe so they won't be so splenetic with whoever does get the nod? You know how some of them are never satisfied...

In other news from the world of rumor and speculation, wouldn't this be something?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 8, 2005 2:33 AM


Temporarily Gov. of Texas, or permanently a Supreme Court Justice likely to be in the majority most of the time.

How many would prefer the former ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 8, 2005 4:30 AM

Michael - Gov of Texas is the premier stepping stone to the Presidency. The first Hispanic Presidency may be his goal. What better mentor than George Bush?

I hope that's true. That would, indeed, be great for the party.

Posted by: pj at July 8, 2005 5:48 AM


Because they won't be satisfied with whoever he picks.

Posted by: oj at July 8, 2005 6:27 AM

Matt - saw the same. All conjecture right now but imagine if O'Conner, Rehnquist, Stevens, and Ginsburg retire over the next year? And there's even been speculation that Souter wants out. Who knows - the Supremes might become like the Senate where those in the minority decide to get out.

Posted by: AWW at July 8, 2005 8:10 AM


A ruse by any other name is still a . . .

Posted by: erp at July 8, 2005 10:07 AM

Its been hinted that Ginsburg's health is worse than Rehnquist's.

Posted by: AML at July 8, 2005 10:30 AM