President To Name Nominee For Court

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005

President Bush planned to announce a new Supreme Court nomination today, moving quickly after a weekend of consultations to put forward a replacement for the ill-fated choice of Harriet Miers in hopes of recapturing political momentum, according to Republicans close to the White House.

Judging by the names the White House floated by political allies in recent days, Bush seems ready to pick a candidate with a long track record of conservative jurisprudence -- one who would mollify the Republican base, whose opposition to Miers's nomination helped scuttle her chances. Several GOP strategists said the most likely choice seemed to be federal appeals judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., with judges J. Michael Luttig and Alice M. Batchelder also in the running.

Any of the three would draw support from many conservative activists, lawyers and columnists who vigorously attacked Miers as an underqualified presidential crony. At the same time, the three have years of court rulings that liberals could use against them. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that he has already warned the White House that nominating Alito -- who is often compared to Justice Antonin Scalia -- would "create a lot of problems."

Republican lawmakers and strategists said a swift nomination with a consolidated party behind Bush would represent an important first step for the president in a strategy to pull himself out of a political ditch. With the withdrawal Thursday of Miers's nomination, the mounting death toll in Iraq and the indictment Friday of top vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Bush has hit an all-time low in public approval ratings and wants to start a new chapter in his troubled second term.

"Presidential problems aren't going to be solved overnight," said a GOP strategist with ties to the White House, "but a Supreme Court nomination is a big event . . . and moving forward with nominating someone consistent with what the president talked about in the last two campaigns is part of" the solution.

Bush spent the weekend at Camp David huddled with Miers, who remains his White House counsel and is therefore in charge of the judicial selection process, along with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who originally advocated Miers as the choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. As the three talked, White House officials contacted prominent conservatives to test the reaction to various candidates.

One group consulted was the Concerned Women for America, whose decision to oppose Miers last Wednesday became one of the final blows to help kill the nomination. Janet M. LaRue, the group's chief counsel, said it received a call from the White House on Saturday and liked what it heard.

"Alito and Luttig have always been at the top of our list," she said in an interview. "We think either of them would be a supreme pick. There isn't a thing stealthy about them. They've got a long, proven record of constitutional conservatism."

Other conservatives yesterday also embraced Alito, in particular. "Alito, Luttig -- all these people are solid conservatives," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation." On CNN's "Late Edition," Gary L. Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, described his criteria for a Supreme Court justice and added, "Certainly, Judge Alito fits those characterizations."

But Senate Democrats, who largely kept quiet during Miers's nomination to enjoy the Republican civil war it spawned, signaled they would come off the sidelines in the case of a more vocal conservative nominee.

"If he wants to divert attention from all of his many problems, he can send us somebody that is going to create a lot of problems," Reid said of Bush on CNN. "I think this time he would be ill-advised to do that. But the right wing, the radical right wing, is pushing a lot of his buttons, and he may just go along with them."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a liberal member of the Judiciary Committee also speaking on "Face the Nation," held out the possibility of a filibuster "if it's going to be a nominee who is way, way out of the mainstream, who wants to use the courts to change America."

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