WASHINGTON – President Bush has invited key lawmakers to a White House meeting next week to begin consultations on a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, officials said Friday.
The meeting, to be held Wednesday, signals the White House is moving to find a successor to O’Connor as Judge John Roberts awaits confirmation as chief justice.
Bush invited Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the panel’s senior Democrat, the officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose the invitations.
One official said the White House has begun making phone calls to key senators to get their views on finding a replacement for O’Connor.
The meeting would mirror a session Bush held with the same four lawmakers several weeks ago as he began consultations to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years.
At the time, O’Connor had announced her retirement and Bush subsequently selected Roberts to fill her seat.
Roberts’ nomination was pending in the Senate when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died nearly two weeks ago. Bush quickly announced he wanted Roberts to succeed Rehnquist, leaving O’Connor on the bench until a replacement could be named, confirmed by the Senate and sworn in.
Roberts’ confirmation is virtually assured, following hearings that ended Thursday. Roberts, 50, a former Reagan administration lawyer, is an appeals court judge based in Washington.
The meeting – and others likely to follow – allow the White House to say that Bush was consulting with the Senate before announcing his nominee. The administration has said the president and his aides reached out to most senators before the president settled on Roberts when he was originally nominated to succeed O’Connor.
Yet while consulting with senators, the White House has made the point that Bush did not intend to allow lawmakers to make his selection for him or to have a veto over the person he nominates.
Reid urged Bush to choose someone in O’Connor’s mold. “Justice O’Connor has been a voice of reason and moderation on the court,” the Democratic leader said in a statement.
Bush has been prodded to name either a woman or a minority to replace O’Connor, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ name has been mentioned.
Specter, appearing on television last weekend, urged the president not to name the attorney general, who would be the first Hispanic on the high court.