President Bush says he expects to have a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor by October when the court begins its next term. Justice O'Connor's retirement announcement last week has set off a major confirmation battle that will eventually play out in the U.S. Senate.
At a news conference in Copenhagen, President Bush said he will look at the character of his nominee for a vacancy on the Supreme Court and will not choose a candidate based on their views on one or two controversial legal issues such as abortion or homosexual marriage.
The president urged the Senate to hold a dignified confirmation process that will begin once Mr. Bush announces his choice to succeed Justice O'Connor sometime in the next few weeks.
Opposition Democrats say the president can avoid a difficult confirmation battle if he nominates a judicial moderate who will follow in the footsteps of Justice O'Connor, who often played the role of centrist in high court rulings.
"We would expect the president to maintain the critical balance of the court that Justice O'Connor fought so long and hard for by nominating a consensus, mainstream nominee," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
But the president is already getting pressure from conservative groups to nominate a staunch conservative to the high court.
Jay Sekulow is with a group called the American Center for Law and Justice. He spoke on Fox News.
"The president ran, when he was running for president during the re-election [campaign], he ran with the concept that he is going to appoint, as he has for the [federal] court of appeals, conservative judges that are going to not legislate from the bench, that are going to interpret the Constitution," Mr. Sekulow said.
Conservative groups have wasted no time in running television ads urging support for the president's eventual nominee.
AD1: "Democrats will attack anyone the president nominates."
But liberal groups have begun running television ads of their own, urging the president to nominate a moderate.
AD2: "Or will he divide the country, trying to force through a judge who threatens our basic rights as Americans?"
Ralph Neas is with a liberal activist group called People for the American Way. He says his group and others stand ready to oppose any nominee they view as too extreme.
"If there is, we will work with our 750,000 members and activists, we will oppose such a nomination, we will work with all of our progressive colleagues all across the country," said Mr. Neas.
The president has already called on both sides to tone down the rhetoric as he prepares to make his decision.
That view was echoed by several Senators including Republican John Warner of Virginia.
"And not view this very solemn and heavy responsibility on both the president and the Senate as something on the order of a Super Bowl," Senator Warner said.
Legal and political analysts say the stakes are high in the confirmation battle because Justice O'Connor has been a voice of moderation on the Supreme Court since 1981.
Cass Sunstein is a professor at the University of Chicago's Law School.
"Justice O'Connor has been one of the most important people in the United States for the last quarter century. She carved out a very distinctive voice as a center of the court, someone who likes to decide one case at a time. Whoever replaces her will have some large shoes to fill," said Mr. Sunstein.
Many experts also predict that the growing partisan political divide in Washington will be on full display when the Senate takes up the president's Supreme Court nominee.
Harvard University Law School Professor Lawrence Tribe is a longtime observer of the Supreme Court.
"You can expect that all of the latent divisions in American law and politics are now going to come to the surface," said Mr. Tribe. "I only wish people had learned a little better how to talk to one another across the divide because this is not going to be a pleasant period, I am afraid."
Part of the reason for the intense preparations on both sides is the fact that this is the first vacancy on the nine-member Supreme Court since 1994.