Tea leaves on the Rehnquist watch

Scott McClellan won't say whether the White House has heard from any of the justices.

Published June 27, 2005 9:29PM (EDT)

There was no news this morning from Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- or from Sandra Day O'Connor, for that matter -- about any vacancies on the Supreme Court. That said, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan sure sounded cagey this afternoon when a reporter asked him if the White House had heard from any of the justices.

"Well, as I indicated this morning to some of you all, I said that I'm going to draw the line here because I'm not going to go down that road," McClellan said. "If there is a vacancy to announce, I would imagine that that would come out of the Supreme Court first. And that's the appropriate place for it to come out of, and I don't think you should read anything into that one way or the other.

"But if you ask me now and I say 'no,' and then you come back and ask me later, and I don't answer, then you're going to start speculating about all sorts of things. So I think it's -- I think it's best for me just to say, you know, if there's anything else to announce, I'm sure it will come from the Supreme Court."

Not to read too much into some pretty thin tea leaves, but it's interesting that McClellan seems to have a pretty clear idea about how a purely hypothetical resignation-announcement process would work. As we noted earlier today, there are no rules for how a justice goes about retiring, and different justices have done it different ways. While many have done it by sending a letter to the president, Rehnquist announced Lewis Powell's resignation from the bench in 1987, and Rehnquist's predecessor, Warren Burger, announced his retirement at a press conference with President Reagan in 1986.

If McClellan is so sure that any word of a resignation this time will come from the Supreme Court, does he know something that the rest of us don't?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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