Looking Ahead to a Post-O'Connor Court Cokie Roberts talks with Renee Montagne about the political battle heating up in Washington after Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement.
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Looking Ahead to a Post-O'Connor Court

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Looking Ahead to a Post-O'Connor Court

Looking Ahead to a Post-O'Connor Court

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush and the leaders of other industrial nations will be discussing world poverty and global warming at this week's G8 meeting in Scotland. Washington's attention, however, is focused here at home. Friday's announcement that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will retire once her successor is confirmed has both political parties preparing for a battle. Joining us now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: President Bush says he will not reveal his choice for Supreme Court nominee until he returns from Europe. He seems to have launched one of the greatest guessing games for Washington watchers we've seen in a long time.

ROBERTS: It's true. And people are not just guessing about names and suddenly all of these no-name judges whose names are becoming familiar, but they're also debating how this should all be held, how the hearings should be held. Yesterday, on the television talk shows, you had senators from both parties out saying--Democrats saying, `We have to ask about what these judges are going to do once they're on the bench.' Republicans saying, `That has not been the practice in the last several decades and we're not going to start it now.' And, of course, you also have, as we've reported over the last few days, groups gearing up on both sides for and against nominees.

The one name that you really see people gearing up against is that of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. Conservatives think that his views, particularly on the subject of abortion, are probably too liberal for their taste. And he's getting shots from Democrats as well who disapprove of the memos that he wrote as White House counsel on the questions of the Geneva Convention and torture. So his is the one name where you're seeing a battle already being drawn.

MONTAGNE: And does that mean his potential nomination is dead?

ROBERTS: I don't think so. You know, President Bush has made it very clear that he wants to name an Hispanic to the Supreme Court. And Alberto Gonzales is the president's friend. And everybody yesterday was agreeing that the one thing that you could count on is that the president is going to make this decision himself regardless of what other people say to him. I don't think it's a particular accident that all of a sudden Attorney General Gonzales showed up in Iraq yesterday in a surprise visit to the troops. Now he probably couldn't have planned that trip since Justice O'Connor announced her decision to retire, but everyone was expecting a retirement on the Supreme Court, expecting, of course, Chief Justice Rehnquist to retire.

Then there's an interesting question now of whether the president makes a different choice now that it's O'Connor going, not Rehnquist. It's different to replace a white conservative male with a white conservative male vs. replacing one of the most independent-minded, first female cowgirl, ranch hand woman on the court with a less than exciting white male. So I think that that does shake up the calculation of who the president picks.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, are the Democrats worried about waging all-out war, if it comes to that, against a Supreme Court nominee?

ROBERTS: Yes, basically. But, of course, it depends on who the president names. The Democrats are calling for consultation. Senator Kennedy has an op-ed in the Washington Post today saying the Senate must use its power to advise as well as consent. The president has called in some Democratic leaders on the Judiciary Committee and of the Senate to the White House next week, but I think it's not terribly likely that you're going to see a lot of consultation here. Senator Leahy, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, along with Republicans, yesterday were calling on lobbying groups on both sides of the aisle to cool it, to not be so hot. But, again, that's not very likely. They've got millions at the ready for a full-scale political campaign, and there are a lot of members of the Senate who will be right there with them. I think others might find the ferocity overwhelming. More than half have come since the last big Supreme Court battles and it's only gotten a lot worse. But there are Democrats worried about filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, and they don't know what that deal on the nuclear option is going to mean.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much and happy Fourth of July.

ROBERTS: Same to you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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