by Steven Ertelt
June 29, 2005
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — White House officials and abortion advocates are ready for a battle whenever a spot opens up on the Supreme Court. Bush administration officials met at the end of last week to finalize a short list of names to potentially replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist if he announces his retirement.
Should Rehnquist step down, Bush’s advisors are ready to present the president with a short list of names to replace him, a top aide told the Chicago Tribune. The president will not immediately name a successor, but will allow several days for Rehnquist to enjoy the media attention focused on his legacy as a jurist.
However, Bush will be prepared to announce a replacement quickly, the aide said, and top officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have met with a handful of potential picks.
The aide indicated that the list of potential nominees has not been narrowed down and will not be until a vacancy occurs.
Bush staffers have also met with leading conservative activists in the legal community including former Attorney General Ed Meese, former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, a leader with business interests, and top pro-life attorney Jay Sekulow.
The aide told the Tribune that some of the top names discussed are all pro-life judges, including Michael Luttig and Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, John Roberts of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Samuel Alito of the 3rd Circuit, and Michael McConnell, a 10th Circuit judge.
Lutting, Roberts and Alito are the top contenders, the Bush aide explained, but that could change once the president and his top advisors weigh in.
"We won’t take the next step until there’s a vacancy. Then everything will be compressed," the administration official told the Tribune. "It will be on a very tight time frame."
Some have speculated that Rehnquist has told the president exactly when he will step down, but the official said, if so, that information hasn’t made its way to stop staff.
"We’re on pins and needles," the Bush aide said.
Bush’s key advisors, including Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney, Gonzales, chief of staff Andrew Card, White House Counsel Harriet Miers and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove are expected to assist the president in making a final selection.
Hearings on a nominee could take place as soon as four weeks after the nomination is made, once the Senate Judiciary Committee has had time to conduct background checks.
Committee chairman Arlen Specter, a pro-abortion senator from Pennsylvania, told Knight Ridder news service he could hold hearings during the traditional August Congressional recess and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he may keep the Senate in town at that time.
Some top Republicans fear that a delay in holding hearings and a vote on a nominee during the recess will allow opponents to engage in a smear campaign to trash the image of the nominee.
Meanwhile, top groups on both sides of the abortion debate are ready to go as soon as a nominee is announced.
One conservative organization, Progress for America, is ready with an $18 million budget to air television commercials on the nominee’s behalf. A leading pro-abortion group says it will immediately email 800,000 abortion advocates and urge them to contact their senators to oppose the nominee.
Ralph Neas, director of People for the American Way, a pro-abortion group involved in other issues, has an entire floor of its building converted into a "war room" to launch its campaign against the nominee. It has 40 computers and 70 telephones allowing his team to contact supporters immediately.
He told the Washington Post he understands the importance of making the case about a judicial nominee early and often.
“Those who frame the debate and define the issues first have a tremendous advantage,” he said.
He also plans to coordinate his efforts with other leading abortion advocates and political groups that would work against the nominee.
“Within 15 minutes to an hour, all the leaders will be talking,” Neas told the Post.