White House set for likely court opening
WASHINGTON – Stepping up preparations for the possible retirement of Chief Justice William Rehnquist – perhaps as early as next week – the White House has narrowed its list to a handful of federal appeals court judges and has conducted interviews with leading contenders, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
Senior White House officials and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have interviewed top candidates and briefed President Bush, but the president has not made a decision, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
White House officials also consider Gonzales to be a possible nominee, according to the official and other sources close to the administration. But the focus has been on the other judges, leaving Gonzales in a separate category because of the president’s longstanding familiarity with him, the official said.
Gonzales, 49, would meet fierce opposition from the conservative groups that see him as too moderate to replace the conservative Rehnquist. As a Texas Supreme Court justice, Gonzales voted to strike down some state abortion regulations, and as White House counsel, he opposed taking a hard line against affirmative action.
But Bush has long said he would like to name the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court and likes the idea of the “Gonzales Court,” sources close to the White House said. The political calculation for Bush is whether he risks offending his conservative base to make Gonzales chief justice or holds off, gambling that a liberal or more moderate justice – such as John Paul Stevens or Sandra Day O’Connor – would also retire during his presidency.