Seeking a New Supreme Court Justice

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr discusses new approaches in the imminent fight over Supreme Court nominees.

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SHEILAH KAST, host:

For the past two weeks, political gossips inside the Washington Beltway have devoted long stretches of their time to speculating on whether and when Chief Justice William Rehnquist will announce his retirement. Battling cancer, Rehnquist was expected by many to step down at the end of the court's recently completed session. Instead, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement and, as NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr notes, touched off some new approaches to the process of selecting a new member of the court.

DANIEL SCHORR:

President Bush is giving a whole new meaning to advise and consent, calling in a bipartisan group of senators tomorrow to get their opinions on the choice of a Supreme Court member to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. Apparently expecting some spirited opposition no matter whom he names, the president has also asked former Senator Fred Thompson to coordinate the campaign for confirmation. Maybe Thompson's recent appearance as district attorney on the "Law & Order" television show gives him some special authority in matters of justice. What is curious is that a backstage struggle over the Supreme Court seats seems to be in progress even before anybody has been nominated. Curious also is that the fight seems to be more spirited within the Republican Party than between Republican and Democrat.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was considered one of the possibilities, is fervently opposed by right-wingers as not being conservative enough on matters like abortion and same-sex marriage. The result is that right-wing conservatives say he would be a disaster, while Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid says he is qualified. The far-right warning against selecting Gonzales may have a pre-emptive quality, serving notice that the president could lose many of his core supporters and the hope for an enduring Republican majority in Congress if he makes the wrong choice.

Mr. Bush has acted so far as though he will not be intimidated. He's come out against any litmus test for Supreme Court justices, and he's responded to attacks on Gonzales by saying, `Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine. When a friend gets attacked, I don't like it.' To further complicate the situation, the speculation around the Supreme Court is that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will soon announce his retirement. If the president nominates a present member of the court to succeed him as chief, Antonin Scalia seems to be an odds-on favorite, then there will be three nominations for the Senate to consider. And so fasten your seat belt.

This is Daniel Schorr.

KAST: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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