Potential Supreme Court Retirement Could Shake Political Landscape

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Potential Supreme Court Retirement Could Shake Political Landscape Email this article
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by Bob Novak
December 13, 2006

The rumor around Washington — originating from undetermined sources some time around the beginning of 2006 — is that Justice John Paul Stevens wants to be replaced by a Republican President, just as he was appointed by one, Gerald Ford.

Stevens, a consistent liberal voice and vote on the high court, was also rumored to have wanted to step down after the 2006 election, so as to avoid making his replacement into a political issue.

Although there is no way to determine whether Stevens actually intends to retire, it is not unlikely that one of the nine justices will in the next two years.

President Bush may appear hamstrung by the 51-member majority that Democrats will enjoy in the new Senate, but if he wishes, he can take his cue from incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Reid, himself a former trial lawyer, gave Bush an opening in June of 2005 when he discussed with reporters the possibility of replacing a justice with a sitting or retired senator. Reid mentioned three senators who come from the trial-lawyer industry.

"We have had approximately 10 members of the Supreme Court that come from the United States Senate over the years," Reid said in June 2005. "There are people who serve in the Senate now, who are Republicans, who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members."

Reid named three Republican senators: Mike DeWine (Ohio), Mel Martinez (Florida) and Mike Crapo (Idaho). A South Carolina newspaper reported that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also received his imprimatur.

Another senator then on Bush’s short-list — and still on it — is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

A member of the Judiciary Committee, Cornyn once served as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court and was also elected attorney general of that state. When asked about Cornyn in 2005, Reid pointedly refused to endorse him along with the trial lawyers.

Martinez’s stock as a judicial nominee goes down with the fact that he has been picked by Bush to head the RNC.

But DeWine, who was defeated for re-election last month, is certainly available, as is Crapo. Both could expect opposition from the liberal left, but neither would be assailed by the powerful, well-moneyed trial lawyer lobby.

DeWine’s moderate record in the Senate could upset some conservatives, but his adherence to the pro-life line would still probably prevent another Harriet Miers situation. Miers’ nomination was withdrawn in 2005 after conservatives went into rebellion against Bush over her lack of a record and qualifications, and over fears about her position on abortion.

Liberals would likely put up an enormous fight to stop Atty. Gen. Al Gonzales, once a Bush favorite and another former Texas justice.

As White House counsel and then attorney general, Gonzales has outraged the left with advice he gave Bush on issues of "torture" and the application of the Geneva Conventions to captured al Qaeda terrorists.