Supreme Court: Gonzales out, a woman in?

With the polls grim on Rove and Arlen Specter rushing to the White House for a last-minute evening meeting, a nomination could come any minute now.

Published July 19, 2005 12:37PM (EDT)

With a new ABC News poll showing that only 25 percent of the public believes that the Bush administration is cooperating fully with the Valerie Plame investigation, the White House is thinking that a headline-grabbing Supreme Court nomination can't come soon enough. An announcement will come "any day" now, a Republican strategist tells Bloomberg News, and the goal is to "change the subject."

How soon is any day now? We don't know that, but we do know this: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter stopped by the White House Monday night for a last-minute, unannounced visit with a president who usually works during the day.

So before returning to the Plame case -- and we will, momentarily -- it seems like an opportune moment to check in on the speculation about potential Supreme Court nominees.

The Hill is reporting this morning that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appears to be out of the running. The paper says that the White House has assured "select conservative leaders" that their concerns about Gonzales' record on abortion have been heard and that Bush won't be nominating him to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. "There's a consensus that the White House has quietly signaled 'message received on Gonzales,'" a conservative strategist tells the Hill.

So if it's not Gonzales -- and Bush raised speculation that it would be on Monday, when he said that he didn't need to interview some potential nominees because he already knows them -- who will it be? The Hill says that conservative strategists are hearing that Bush is likely to pick a woman -- Edith Clement or Edith Jones from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan or Priscilla Owen, the former Texas Supreme Court justice the Senate just confirmed to the 5th Circuit after a Democratic filibuster and amid threats that Republicans would invoke the nuclear option. The Washington Post adds two more female names to that list: Karen Williams of the 4th Circuit and Janice Rogers Brown, a former California Supreme Court justice who, like Owen, was just confirmed to the federal appellate bench.

The New York Times agrees that Clement has emerged as "leading candidate," noting that she was interviewed at the White House last month, when the administration expected that it was William Rehnquist it would be replacing." Bush's father named Clement to the federal bench in 1991, and Bush elevated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2001; she was confirmed then by a vote of 99 to zero. While Clement is a conservative judge and a member of the Federalist Society, there's not much in her record of decided cases to energize partisans on either side.

Both the president and the first lady have floated the idea of naming a woman to replace O'Connor. And although the president acted surprised when Laura Bush said in a "Today" show appearance last week that she "would really like" her husband to nominate a woman, it's hard to think that the first lady was freelancing. But what message was she sending? Did she mean to raise hopes that her husband would name a woman, or was she just making it clear that women were being considered so that the president would be free to choose a man? After all, men have dominated the shortlists that have circulated over the past few years, and many of the men who have been there for some time are still thought to be there now. The Times says that the 4th Circuit's J. Michael Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson III are still getting serious consideration, as is John G. Robert Jr. of the D.C. Circuit.

By Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Supreme Court War Room