Monday June 27, 2005
COUNTDOWN TO THE SUPREME FIGHT:
For the last couple of weeks we've been conducting an informal survey of some of the top Supreme Court watchers and legal minds in the country to get their impressions on the impending nomination battle. We asked three simple questions based on the most likely scenario of a Rehnquist retirement:

Question 1: If Chief Justice Rehnquist steps down, will President Bush nominate someone not currently on the Court to replace him or will he seek to elevate one of the sitting Associate Justices?

Question 2: Assuming President Bush opts to nominate someone not currently on the Court, please list the names of the top three candidates you feel would be most likely to be nominated for Chief Justice (in order of likelihood).

Question 3: If President Bush decides to nominate a current member of the Court for Chief Justice, who will he choose? Also, please list the names of the top three candidates you feel would be most likely to be nominated to fill the resulting vacancy of Associate Justice (in order of likelihood).

Seventy percent (70%) of those surveyed thought President Bush would nominate someone new for the position of Chief Justice as opposed to elevating a current member of the Court. Among those mentioned as most likely nominees for position of Chief Justice, J. Michael Luttig finished at the top of the list just barely ahead of John C. Roberts. Michael W. McConnell came in a very close third and Alberto Gonzalez and Emilio Garza tied for a distant fourth place. J. Harvie Wilkinson finished in fifth place and Samuel Alito, Jr. brought up the rear.

When forced to consider who Bush might choose to elevate off the current Court, eighty percent (80%) responded Anthony Scalia and twenty percent (20%) said Clarence Thomas. The list of those mentioned to fill the resulting Associate Justice vacancy was almost identical to that of Chief Justice, suggesting the decision of whether to elevate a current member of the court to Chief Justice will have little to no impact on who Bush ends up nominating for the Court.

Combining responses from questions two and three we get the following results:

1) J. Michael Luttig
2) John C. Roberts
3) Michael W. McConnell
4) Alberto Gonzales
5) Emilio Garza
6) J. Harvie Wilkinson
7) Samuel Alito, Jr.
8) Janice Rogers Brown

This seems to fit well within current conventional wisdom. Luttig and Roberts are frequently cited as top two prospects under consideration by the White House: both are young and known to be solidly conservative. McConnell is also highly respected with good conservative credentials, though he seems to come across as everyone's favorite second choice.

Now for a couple of caveats. First, our survey was conducted with the assurance of complete confidentiality. Suffice it to say that respondents include distinguished professors and scholars from the top law schools around the country, Supreme Court reporters from some of the largest and most well respected media outlets, and some notable private practice attorneys. Because we were trying to get the opinions of such an elite group, however, our sample size is understandably small.

Second, most of the surveys were conducted prior to the buzz of a possible O'Connor retirement instead of Rehnquist. Obviously, the dynamics of a nomination would change dramatically if this were to occur.

I'll be writing more on my own thoughts about who Bush will nominate later this week. In the meantime, if you haven't already bookmarked our RCP Supreme Court Nomination page, I suggest you do it soon to stay up to date with all the news and buzz on what is sure to be one of the biggest political fights of the year. - T. Bevan 9:05 am Link | Email | Send To A Friend

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