Bush close to naming O'Connor's successor

September 29, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEW SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is close to naming a successor to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and could announce his choice this week, Republicans close to the White House said yesterday.

One name that was the source of enormous speculation in Washington legal and political circles was Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, who is a leader in the search for O'Connor's successor.

Miers, 60, was the first woman to become a partner at a major Texas law firm and the first woman to be president of the State Bar of Texas. At one point, she was Bush's personal lawyer.

In 1995, then-Gov. Bush named her chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission and gave her the task of cleaning up the scandal-racked agency. Miers has never been a judge, although that is not a requirement for a Supreme Court justice.

Miers was also a leader in the search that led Bush to Judge John G. Roberts Jr., who is widely expected to be confirmed by the Senate as chief justice today.

Republicans cautioned that Miers was just one in a swirling mix of perhaps 12 possibilities and that she could be the subject of the same kind of assumptions that led much of Washington to conclude in July that Judge Edith Brown Clement of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was Bush's choice for the court hours before he named Roberts.

Influential Republicans said there was a serious possibility that Bush would name a woman or a minority to succeed O'Connor, particularly after the president said Monday, in response to a question about how close he was to choosing a successor, that "diversity is one of the strengths of the country."

Other frequently mentioned possibilities include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is Hispanic; Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general and now general counsel of PepsiCo in Purchase, N.Y., who is African-American; and Judge Karen J. Williams of Orangeburg, S.C., who sits on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republicans said there appeared to be less possibility that Bush would select Priscilla R. Owen or Janice Rogers Brown, federal appellate judges appointed by the president. Owen and Brown, strong conservatives, set off bitter confirmation fights in the Senate, and Democrats blocked them for years by filibusters until a compromise on their confirmations was reached this year.

Yesterday, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, sent Bush a letter urging him not to name to the court any of the three judges who were part of the compromise - Judge William J. Pryor Jr., along with Owen and Brown.

"The nomination of any of these individuals to the Supreme Court would represent an unnecessary provocation and would be met by substantial opposition in the Senate," the letter said.

In the meantime, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said White House officials had consulted about 70 senators to seek names in the selection process.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, who is on the judiciary panel, said that it was "consultation in name only" and that Miers called him last week to ask for suggestions in a conversation that lasted less than five minutes.

"There is no back and forth," Schumer said. "It's just, `Give us some names.' I said to her, `Look, I'd like to know who the president is considering.' And she didn't say anything."

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