Specter Says Bush Should Bypass Gonzales for Supreme Court Post


Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush should bypass U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for the second opening on the U.S. Supreme Court because his nomination likely would spark a contentious confirmation fight, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said.

``I believe it's a little too soon for Attorney General Gonzales to move up,'' Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on NBC's ``Meet the Press'' program. ``He's an able fellow, but we just went through a tough confirmation hearing, and my sense is that the national interest would be best served if he stayed in that job right now.''

Bush last week named Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to succeed the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. He next needs to nominate a successor to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring. Specter will oversee hearings beginning tomorrow on the Roberts nomination.

Gonzales, 50, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, is Bush's longtime confidant and legal adviser. Yet some of Bush's conservative allies have expressed opposition to the idea of nominating Gonzales to the Supreme Court, questioning whether he is firmly opposed to abortion rights.

Gonzales won Senate confirmation as attorney general in February on a vote of 60-36. His opponents among Democrats said the torture of suspected terrorists by U.S. military personnel stemmed from government policies he helped devise.

`Wide Open'
Bush said last week he won't rush to replace O'Connor and expected her to be on the bench when the court reconvenes Oct. 3. He said he's looking at a broad array of candidates.

``The list is wide open, which should create some good speculation here in Washington,'' Bush said Sept. 6 while meeting with his Cabinet at the White House. ``And make sure you notice when I said that I looked right at Al Gonzales so we can really create speculation.''

Specter said Bush should consider a woman to replace O'Connor, the court's first female justice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the other woman on the court.

``I think it would be helpful if he can find a woman who he thinks is the right person for the job,'' Specter said. ``I think that we ought to have more women on the court. Two is a bare minimum. We really ought to have more.''

Specter said the choice should not be subject to a ``quota system'' that forces Bush to settle for someone other than his first choice.

Future Vacancies
``There will be another vacancy which will come up, and I think that we ought to get the best person as viewed by the president,'' Specter said.

Likely candidates other than Gonzales include Judge Edith Jones, 56, of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judges Edith Brown Clement, 57, and Priscilla Owen, 50, also of the 5th Circuit; Judges Reena Raggi, 54, and Sonia Sotomayor, 51, both of the New York-based 2nd Circuit; and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, 59.

Heading into the Roberts hearing, Specter said senators shouldn't question the nominee on specific rulings such as abortion and instead should focus on his legal philosophy during confirmation hearings.

``I think it is inappropriate to ask him head-on if he's going to overturn'' Roe v. Wade, Specter said, referring to the 1973 court decision on abortion. ``There are many questions close to the issue, like his respect for precedent.''

Abortion Debate
Abortion may be the most contentious issue in the nomination process. Most Democrats in Congress say they support a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, while Bush and Republican Party leaders have called for the court's ruling to be overturned. Specter has supported abortion rights in the past and his fellow Senate Republicans approved him as Judiciary Committee chairman last November after he promised to be a strong advocate for Bush's judicial nominees.

Anti-abortion groups asked Senate Republicans to block Specter from the chairmanship after he said it was ``unlikely'' the Senate would confirm any Supreme Court nominee who would vote to overturn a woman's right to an abortion.

Specter said he intends to question Roberts about his view of the roles of Congress and the courts.

``I'll be asking him what he thinks about congressional power, contrasted with the court's power, and not how he's going to decide a specific case, but what his views of jurisprudence are, to get an idea as to how he would approach these issues,'' he said.