Bush convenes meeting to discuss O’Connor replacement
WASHINGTON – President Bush is in the early phases of consultations with Congress on filling a second vacancy on the Supreme Court, officials disclosed Friday, as Judge John Roberts coasts to Senate confirmation as chief justice.White House counsel Harriett Miers has called selected members of the Senate within the past day or two to solicit their views on replacements for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, these officials said.At the same time, Bush has invited four key senators to a breakfast meeting at the White House next Wednesday to discuss filling O’Connor’s seat. The guest list includes Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the panel’s senior Democrat.Officials said Miers had called at least two Senate Democrats, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Evan Bayh of Indiana. Mikulski’s office declined to confirm the call, even though an aide had confided earlier in the day to a roomful of other Democrats that it occurred. Bayh’s spokesman said he did not know the reason for Miers’ call.The administration’s actions became known one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded hearings on Roberts, who is expected to become the nation’s 17th chief justice before the end of the month. The committee is expected to recommend his approval next week, with the full Senate scheduled to vote in time for him to take his seat as chief justice when the court opens a new term on Oct. 3.Roberts, 50, is an appeals court judge and a former Reagan administration lawyer.Reid urged Bush to choose someone in O’Connor’s mold. “Justice O’Connor has been a voice of reason and moderation on the court,” the Democratic leader said in a statement.Leahy said, “It’s a good first step, but real consultation is a two-way street.”Bush is also under pressure from conservatives who want O’Connor’s replacement to help make a court majority that would overturn the 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion. O’Connor was part of a slender majority that has helped sustain the initial ruling.Bush also has been prodded to name either a woman or a minority to replace O’Connor, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been mentioned as a choice to become the first Hispanic on the high court.Specter, appearing on television last weekend, urged the president not to name the attorney general, saying the time was not right for him. Gonzales has been in the Cabinet only since early this year.The meeting and phone calls mirror the steps the administration took earlier this summer when Bush began consultations to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years.At the time, O’Connor had announced her retirement, and Bush subsequently selected Roberts to fill her seat.Roberts’ nomination was pending in the Senate when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died nearly two weeks ago. Bush quickly announced he wanted Roberts to succeed Rehnquist, leaving O’Connor on the bench until a replacement could be named, confirmed by the Senate and sworn in.The meeting – and others likely to follow – allow the White House to say that Bush was consulting with the Senate before announcing his nominee. The administration has said the president and his aides reached out to most senators before the president settled on Roberts when he was originally nominated to succeed O’Connor.Yet while consulting with senators, the White House has made the point that Bush did not intend to allow lawmakers to make his selection for him or to have a veto over the person he nominates.As far as Roberts is concerned, the only real question left about his nomination is how many Democrats will vote for him to become the nation’s 17th chief justice.This week’s grueling four-day Senate confirmation hearings only confirmed for most of the Senate’s majority Republicans their contention that Bush’s pick to succeed Rehnquist is an ideal choice.Since Democrats don’t plan to filibuster, they must decide if it’s worth casting a symbolic vote against the 50-year-old Roberts, knowing they can’t stop his confirmation and that Bush will soon choose another conservative to replace O’Connor, a swing vote on the court.Reid has asked his Democratic caucus members not to make a decision before a closed-door meeting Tuesday. But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he thinks about half of them ultimately will vote to confirm Roberts.There are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont in the Senate. “I think he can get from 75 to 80 votes,” Conrad said of Roberts.—–Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland contributed to this report.—On the Net:Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.govSupreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov
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