The Rehnquist watch begins again

With the chief justice out of the hospital, it's time for more predicting, pontificating and posturing.

Published July 14, 2005 6:57PM (EDT)

William Rehnquist has just been released from a Virginia hospital, which means two things: Whatever medical emergency sent him there has passed, and the feverish speculation about his future -- and ours --- can begin all over again.

There's not much anyone knows for certain. Rehnquist hasn't said anything about his plans since his "That's for me to know and you to find out" comment last week. And the president isn't saying much about who he'll nominate to fill the opening he's already got or the one he may soon have. Bush didn't identify any potential nominees when he met with senators from both parties Tuesday, and he said that he's "considering all kinds of people" when he spoke briefly with reporters Wednesday. What that leaves us with is a lot of gossip, speculation and political posturing. Here's some of it.

On the Republican blog Red State, there's a report -- sourced to "sources" -- that Bush is taking a long look at Fourth Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig and D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts as potential chief justices and that Texas Sen. John Cornyn is emerging as a "favored compromise pick" for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat. Maybe Cornyn is thinking the same thing: This afternoon on the Senate floor, he warned Democrats that they shouldn't dare ask Supreme Court nominees "wrong-headed" questions about their views on abortion or anything else.

Meanwhile, conservatives are bristling at the notion that Bush cares what the Democrats think at all. In a column today, Sen. Orrin Hatch complains that Democrats are "forcing the president who did win the election to nominate someone acceptable to his opponents who did not." Now, we always thought that senators were elected to their offices, too, but we understand the point Hatch is making because the conservative activists at the American Center for Law and Justice have explained it to us. "Our president must stand strong against the political maneuvering of activist groups like People for the American Way, the ACLU, and other organizations," ACL&J chief counsel Jay Sekulow said in an e-mail to supporters this week. "He must reject the call for a 'consensus' candidate."

The Concerned Women for American are also concerned about someone who could become a "consensus" candidate. "Despite attempts by media to bait us into criticizing Alberto Gonzales as a potential Supreme Court nominee, CWA hasnt done so," CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue says in an e-mail to supporters -- just before explaining why Alberto Gonzales shouldn't be a potential Supreme Court nominee. It's not that CWA has anything against Gonzales, LaRue says. It's just that Gonzales' work in the Bush administration would force him to recuse himself from a whole lot of important cases before the court, and that elevating Gonzales would require "another contentious confirmation hearing" for his replacement as attorney general.

By Tim Grieve

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

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