The July 20 Washington Sketch column said that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) issued the text of a speech praising President Bush for nominating Judge Edith Brown Clement to the Supreme Court. A spokesman for Cornyn said the text was intended only as a written statement. (Published 7/23/2005)
When historians look back on the tenure of Supreme Court Justice Edith Brown Clement, they will recall her time on the high court as brief and uncontroversial. They will find nothing objectionable in her opinions. Indeed, they will find nothing at all in her opinions -- because she did not have a chance to write any in the eight hours yesterday when the world thought she was about to be nominated.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) issued the text of a speech praising President Bush's selection of Clement as the next justice. The staff of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) circulated to senators a link to her 2001 confirmation hearings as an appellate judge. As news services reported that the selection of Clement was a virtual certainty, CNN spent much of the day examining her biography. MSNBC reported that she prefers to be called "Joy" rather than Edith. A passenger on a United Airlines flight arriving at Dulles reported that an Edith Clement was paged when the plane landed.
Bush, as we now know, had other ideas, tapping Judge John G. Roberts Jr. for the high court. But this did not stop the press, enabled by usually reliable White House surrogates, from reporting most of the day that Clement's confirmation was a sure thing.
"[T]he buzz this morning is all about Judge Edith Brown Clement," ABC News's political tip sheet, the Note, reported before 9 a.m. ABC said that "some folks in a position to be among the first told are starting to tell us that she is the pick," adding: "It is entirely possible that all this buzz is wrong. . . . But that is NOT what the buzz sounds like to our veteran ears."
The Associated Press and Reuters went almost that far, calling her "a leading candidate" at the top of their reports. And the Hill newspaper reported: "Senior administration officials have told select conservative leaders that President Bush is likely to nominate either Edith Jones or Edith Clement."
Bush, appearing at a noon news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, did nothing to disabuse the journalists of their scoop. "I'm comfortable with where we are in the process," the cryptic commander said.
"What do you think of Edith Clement?" Reuters correspondent Caren Bohan persisted.
"What do you think of Edith Clement for the court?"
"Oh," Bush replied. "Well, I think it's important -- ," he began, and then he cut himself off and delivered a no-comment.
Within an hour, the White House announced that Bush would make his announcement at 9 p.m. Bush had just called Roberts to offer him the job. But everywhere else, it was all Edith.
A reporter who reached the spokeswoman for Clement's high school in New Orleans was told the judge's office had directed that no information could be disclosed until after the president's announcement. Law schools and law firms volunteered their experts to comment on the choice of Clement. An online oddsmaker reported a massive surge by Clement. A well-placed Louisiana source reported with authority that Clement was on a flight to Washington.
At 1:42 pm, Cornyn's office issued an embargoed statement from the Judiciary Committee member, saying: "Just minutes ago the President announced his nominee to the Supreme Court: Judge Edith Brown Clement, currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit."
Around that time, a well-connected GOP lobbyist said his sources were telling him that the choice was almost certainly Clement. And Bradford Berenson, a former Bush White House lawyer, told Bloomberg News: "The fact that this is the name everybody is hearing is a pretty good sign she's the one."
Further confirmation came from a Supreme Court blog, which intercepted an e-mail from Specter's staff saying, "The October 4, 2001 confirmation hearing for Edith Clement is available full text online." A disclaimer later added by the blog said the e-mail was sent "because of the large number of requests received for information on Clement, no more."
By mid-afternoon, White House officials were discouraging reporters from the rumors about Clement -- but many journalists suspected the officials were merely trying to maintain suspense for Bush's announcement. Then, as evening approached, disaster struck.
Cable news reported that family members of J. Michael Luttig, another judge on Bush's short list, were spotted wearing their nomination finest (it turned out this may have had something to do with a family member's birthday). Around that time, ABC News reported on its Web site that an "informed source" said the White House called Clement to say Bush was going in a "different direction."
The speculation quickly returned to the earlier suspects -- and by 7 p.m., Clement was reduced to a footnote in the seventh paragraph of the AP report: "There was early speculation about Judge Edith Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but Republicans indicated later she was not the nominee."
The Drudge Report took down the photo of Clement and the caption "His Choice." Clement's 15 minutes of fame had lasted eight hours, but it had come to an end.