Top Democrats recommended to President Bush on Tuesday three Hispanic judges among potential Supreme Court nominees they view as able to win Senate confirmation without a partisan battle.
They include Judge Edward Prado of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of Texas, according to sources familiar with talks about a nominee between Bush and Democratic and Republican senators.
Their White House meeting was aimed at averting a drawn-out fight over a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a key swing vote between the court’s liberal and conservative wings.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who participated in the talks, declined to confirm the names offered at the meeting, but told reporters those mentioned could easily win Senate confirmation.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, without naming names floated at the meeting, said he planned to get back to the White House to recommend still another, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.
“He’s very, very smart,” Reid told reporters.
Last month, Reid suggested that Bush consider four other Republicans senators — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
Bush, who Reid said “didn’t give us any names” of candidates he is considering, got suggestions from a number of people on Tuesday, even his wife.
First lady Laura Bush, on a trip to Africa, told NBC’s “Today Show” that “I would really like for him to name another woman,” a statement that caught the president a bit off guard.
“Listen, I get her advice all the time. I didn’t realize she had put this advice in the press,” Bush said.
Bush is seen as interested in appointing the first Hispanic to the high court and is believed to be considering a personal friend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Yet some conservatives have complained that Gonzales may not be conservative enough. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said he has requested an interview to “hear his overarching view of the Constitution.”
Bush met at the White House with Reid and Leahy, along with Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican. Leahy is the top Democrat on that panel.
Bush heard out the lawmakers amid his review of the backgrounds and legal opinions of more than half a dozen potential candidates to the Supreme Court. He appears unlikely to make an announcement on his choice until the end of the month.
Criticized in the past for not consulting sufficiently with Congress, Bush said he asked the senators their opinions on who would be suitable for the high court, and how fast they could hold confirmation hearings so the new justice could start work when the court reconvenes in October.
Democrats want Bush to appoint a moderate like O’Connor, who often cast the decisive vote on abortion and other contentious issues. Conservatives want Bush to use the opportunity to shift the court’s majority firmly to the right.
“I feel comfortable and good that we’re going to be able to have someone that is a consensus candidate,” Reid said. But he added, “We have a long way to go.”
Frist said he was concerned that “no amount of consultation will be sufficient for a few of our colleagues in this body,” an apparent reference to Democrats.
“Co-nomination rather than consultation may be their ultimate goal,” Frist said. “But that is not the way the system works, that is not the way the Constitution works.”
Many of those mentioned as potential nominees are appeals court judges. Specter, Reid and Leahy said Bush should also consider some non-judges.