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Posturing Over Possible Supreme Court Nominee Begins

  • Michael Bowman

U.S. senators from both political parties are urging restraint on the part of activists and political interest groups, as the nation awaits President Bush's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement last week of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In coming weeks, Americans can expect to be bombarded with advertisements by conservative and liberal groups attempting to shape the nomination and confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice.

Conservatives, who are expecting President Bush to name a like-minded jurist, want to assure the nominee gets an up-or-down vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Liberals hope to pressure Mr. Bush to nominate a moderate - or at least to make confirmation of a hard-line conservative as difficult as possible.

But, for now, a number of Republican and Democratic senators are calling for a reining in of the passions that were ignited the moment Justice O'Connor announced her retirement.

Democrat Charles Schumer of New York spoke on ABC's "This Week" program.

"There are groups on the far right. There are groups on the far left," Mr. Schumer says. "And this is their job: to agitate and stir the pot. But we (senators) have a higher obligation. Our obligation is to the constitution and the American people. And I would hope all the 'Sturm and Drang' [controversy] that the groups stir up gets a little less attention, and we have a probing, thoughtful hearing."

The man who will oversee an eventual confirmation hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, agreed. The Pennsylvania Republican spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"It would be very useful for the country, if the rhetoric were to be toned down," Mr. Specter says.

But Mr. Specter was quick to add that Mr. Bush, like other presidents before him, is free to nominate whomever he wishes.

"It is President George W. Bush who was elected with the constitutional authority to make the designation," Mr. Specter says.

Those words were echoed by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"It is up to the president to decide who to nominate," Mr. McConnell says. "Our job is to react to that nomination in a respectful and dignified way, and at the end of the process, give that person an up-or-down vote, as all nominees who have got majority-support have gotten throughout the history of the country. It is not our job to determine who ought to be picked."

Historically, only a small percentage of Supreme Court nominees have failed to gain confirmation. The two most recent, Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, named by President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s, withdrew their nominations when it became clear the Senate would not vote to confirm them.

Minority Democrats are not ruling out employing procedural tactics to block a confirmation vote of any Supreme Court nominee they consider unpalatable. But Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the country could be spared a bruising, divisive battle, if President Bush nominates a jurist with mainstream credentials.

"We do not want to have somebody who is going to be there just for the Republicans, any more than we should have someone there just for the Democrats," Mr. Leahy says. "This should be somebody for the whole country, to unite the country. After all, the Supreme Court is supposed to be an independent branch of government."

President Bush is expected to consult with Senators of both parties next week, as he considers potential nominees.