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U.S. Supreme Court

Bush: Options for second high court seat 'wide open'

By wire services
Published September 7, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush said the list of possibilities for his second Supreme Court nomination was "wide open" Tuesday as Senate Republicans urged him to consider a woman and Democrats pressed him to consult with them before making his next pick.

The president said the Senate should concentrate on confirming U.S. Appeals Judge John Roberts to replace the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist before worrying about any other choices.

"I want the Senate to focus not on who the next nominee is going to be, but the nominee I got up there now," Bush said.

Roberts' confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin Monday, one week after Bush named him to replace the justice he worked for as a Supreme Court law clerk.

Bush and Senate Republicans are pushing to confirm Roberts before the new court session that begins Oct. 3. Democrats cautioned against a rush to judgment now that Roberts is a candidate for chief justice and at age 50, could shape the court for decades.

"I would hope all senators, Republicans and Democrats, would ask very substantive questions because this is, after all, a lifetime position," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Roberts was originally slated to be Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, but Bush formally withdrew that nomination Tuesday and made the 50-year-old judge the chief justice nominee.

O'Connor has agreed to stay on until her successor is in place, Bush said, ensuring there will be a nine-member court if Roberts is confirmed before the new term begins on Oct. 3.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said they expected to be finished with Roberts before then.

Specter and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas - who will be the Senate's No. 3 Republican next year - said Bush should choose a woman since O'Connor's retirement would leave only one woman on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"Two women, I think, are a minimum," Specter said.

Several senators suggested the president should wait before making any new selection public, given that the Senate is working on relief for the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast as well as Roberts' nomination.

"We've got more than a full plate right now," said John Cornyn, R-Texas.

"I think you should do one nomination at a time, even though it would be nice to know who the president is thinking of," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Democrats urged Bush to talk with them before replacing O'Connor, who sometimes has sided with more liberal justices.

"The list is wide open, which should create some good speculation here in Washington," Bush said, playfully glancing at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has been mentioned as a possible nominee. If named, Gonzales would become the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

Republicans said that as a replacement they were looking for someone like Roberts, a conservative whose impressive legal resume has made him difficult for Democrats to challenge.

"I'd be pleased if you could clone John Roberts," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Information from the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified September 7, 2005, 01:03:06]

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