Two intimates of President Reagan yesterday took themselves out of consideration as possible replacements for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.
White House counselor Edwin Meese III told Reagan that he wished to be removed from possible consideration because he thought it "inappropriate" to be simultaneously an adviser to the president and a candidate for the court. t
Attorney General William French Smith, who is compiling names of potential replacemtns for Stewart, said he would submit a list to the president but his own name would not be on it. While Reagan presumable could chose Smith anyway, a high White House official said the president "wouldn't make a mockery of his own selection process by taking the listmaker and ignoring the list.
The actions by Meese and Smith deepened speculation that Reagan would take the opportunity to name the first woman justice.
The only other administration officials whose names have been mentioned are William P. Clark, deputy secretary of state and executive secretary to Reagan when he was governor of California, and Elizabeth Hanford Dole, a White House aide and wife of Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).
Dole was one of three women on a list submitted to Reagan yesterday by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.The others were Judge Cornelia G. Kennedy of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who is considered a conservative Republican, and Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who is black.
There were five men on the Thursday list: Judge Clifford Wallace of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Charles E. Simons Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Columbia, S.C.; C. Bruce Littlejohn of the South Carolina Supreme Court; Smith, and Meese.
Stewart is retiring July 3, and Reagan, who was informed of the retirement two months before it was announced pubilicly, is expected to choose Stewart's replacement sometime in July.
At the White House, spokesman David Gergen termed all news reports at this point as "speculation" and said the selection process was still in a preliminary stage.
Gergen made his debut as spokesman yesterday in the White House briefing room with an attempted rebuttal of a new Gallup Poll that shows a marked decline in Reagan's public approval rating.
The poll, which appeared in Sunday editions of The Washington Post, shows Reagan's approval down from 68 percent in May to 59 percent early this month and the disapproval rating up from 21 to 28 percent.
Gergen said that Reagan simply was returning to the level of popularity he enjoyed before the assassination attempt March 30. Gallup gave the president an approval rating of 60 percent and a disapproval rating of 24 percent in mid-March.
The White House spokesman read from a variety of other polls, all of which gave Reagan a higher approval rating than the Gallup survey. Gergen said that Richard B. Wirthlin, who polls under contract for the White House, had a June poll that showed a 69 percent approval rating for Reagan and a disapproval rating of 25 percent.
Wirthlin said later that his poll was taken from June 12-14. The GOP pollster also said that "the erosion even in Gallup's terms is no great cause for concern because he's still popular with six out of 10 people and his programs are popular, too."
The official White House view is that Reagan's popularity is less at this point than that of many previous presidents because Reagan has proposed, during his honeymoon period, a controversial and significant program that immediately polarized Americans.
But despite the plausibility of this argument and the outward optimism displayed by Wirthlin and Gergen, there is some behind-the-scenes concern that Reagan's slippage may hurt him on Capitol Hill in the upcoming close votes on budget-cutting and tax-reduction bills. There is also concern that the domestic economy is not responding quickly to the Reagan programs.
"The president is less concerned with the direction of the polls that the direction of the economy," Gergen said yesterday. "If the economy picks up, the polls will take care of themselves."