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The White House said Monday it was prepared for the possibility of the first double vacancy on the Supreme Court in more than three decades but said it had received no signal that the widely rumored retirement of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was about to happen. Lacking any definitive word, the White House focused its efforts on replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. President Bush’s advisers have reached out to more than 60 senators about the impending nomination — although some Democrats said the administration was not sharing the names of nominees on Bush’s short list. Bush planned to discuss the court situation today at the White House with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; and Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Bush likely will ask them what qualities the senators think are important in a nominee, but White House officials say he’s unlikely to tip his hand about his favorites. Some Democratic senators say that while they welcome the overtures, it’s not true consultation if the White House doesn’t discuss the names of individuals it is considering. And that’s if there’s only one vacancy. The morning meeting takes place amid speculation over whether the 80-year-old Rehnquist, who is ailing from cancer, will step down, complicating White House planning because Bush might respond differently if he has more than one opening to fill. “We are prepared for additional vacancies, if they should occur,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. “This is something that we have prepared for for quite some time at the White House.” Leahy thinks Rehnquist will remain on the bench. “He enjoys being chief justice,” Leahy said. “He’s really shaped it into a strong chief justiceship. And I don’t think he wants to leave.” Advocates on both the left and right, meanwhile, suspect Bush is waiting to name his pick to replace O’Connor to shorten the amount of time liberal groups would have to oppose a nominee. The president said he wants his nominee confirmed and sitting on the bench when the court resumes in October. A second vacancy wouldn’t change the political dynamic much, says Brad Berenson, a White House lawyer during Bush’s first term and a former Supreme Court clerk. “The groups on the left would still be determined to oppose anyone they regarded as a reliable conservative, and the only practical way to accomplish that, given the balance of power in the Senate, would be to launch personal attacks on the nominees that find their mark,” Berenson said. That’s why Sean Rushton, director of the conservative Committee for Justice, said he thinks the White House’s strategy is to wait a few weeks so that Bush’s nominee would not be a target for opposition groups while Congress is on recess in August. “If they do it now, and they don’t have some clever plan like bringing the Senate back a week or two early, then they’re asking for trouble,” Rushton said. “Otherwise, Bush is going to be pinning a big bull’s-eye on his nominee’s back for the whole month of August.” Wendy Long, a counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network, which is backing Bush’s judicial nominees, said the number of vacancies at the court is irrelevant. Bush promised to nominate individuals for the Supreme Court in the mold of conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in response to “the damage that has been done to the Constitution by a liberal-activist Supreme Court,” she said. “His track record of federal appellate court nominees proves that he intends to keep this promise, whether he is filling one, two, three or nine vacancies at the court,” she said. The Judicial Confirmation Network, which wants Bush to nominate individuals who will interpret the Constitution as it was written and not be swayed by cultural or social trends, launched the first in a series of ads on Monday to highlight recent decisions by the Supreme Court that the group claims violates the Constitution. “Each of the ads will highlight a bad decision made by a liberal majority on the court, then a quote from Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas about the error that the liberal majority made in the case,” said director Gary Marx. The tense wait about the Supreme Court nominee also has continued to fuel speculation about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is a top candidate for the court. Conservative groups are suspicious about his views on abortion and affirmative action. Liberals, on the other hand, view Gonzales as the least conservative of a slate of oft-named candidates. Bush perpetuated those rumors on Monday after a speech on the war on terror he game at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. As was leaving, Bush shook hands with Gonzales, prompting a frenzy of lights from photographers. “Now, why are you taking photos of us?” Bush asked, playfully. “One way to get in the paper is to stand next to Gonzales.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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