Specter: Gonzales Not Ready for Supreme Court

U.S. President George W. Bush should keep Alberto Gonzales as his attorney general rather than possibly nominate him to a seat on the Supreme Court, a top Senate Republican said on Sunday.

“I believe it is a little too soon for Attorney General Gonzales to move up,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania told 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,” Specter said.

Gonzales, Bush’s former White House counsel, won Senate confirmation as attorney general in February, following an often stormy confirmation hearing centering on Democratic complaints that Gonzales helped craft policies that critics charged contributed to the torture of foreign detainees. The Senate approved Gonzales on a largely party-line vote, 60-36.

Bush made it clear last week that Gonzales, a close friend, has been among those he has considered to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Some of Bush’s fellow conservatives have voiced concerns that Gonzales may not be conservative enough. Specter, a moderate, did not refer to that controversy.

The president in July nominated John Roberts, a federal appeals court judge the past two years, to replace O’Connor. But after the death this month of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Bush changed plans and nominated Roberts to replace him.

Bush told reporters last week that the field was “wide open” in his search for a successor to O’Connor, and pointedly looked at Gonzales when he made the comment.

Bush has been seen as long inclined to nominate Gonzales to the Supreme Court because of their friendship and because Gonzales would be the first Hispanic on the high court, which could help Republicans bolster support from the fast-growing Hispanic population in the United States.

Bush is certain to come under pressure to replace O’Connor, who in 1981 became the first woman on the Supreme Court, with another woman. There is now just one other woman on the nine-member court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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

“But I don’t believe in a quota system, and it may be that at this particular time, President Bush would like to have someone other than a woman, and I don’t think his hands ought to be tied.”