Death of Rehnquist Complicates Roberts' Confirmation

President George W. Bush faces conflicting, probably even irreconcilable, pressures as he prepares to fill a second U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Bush, dealing with sagging approval ratings and criticism over his response to Hurricane Katrina, may try to reach out to moderates with his next appointment.

At the same time, his political base will want a new justice to be at least as conservative as Rehnquist, who voted to allow the death penalty, restrict abortion and limit affirmative action.

And with a white male, federal appeals court Judge John G. Roberts, already in line to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, some political allies say Bush must appoint either a woman or a racial minority.

The most-discussed possibility yesterday was that Bush would now choose Roberts to replace Rehnquist, who died of thyroid cancer on Sept. 3, and name a minority or woman to fill O'Connor's seat.

“The president can't nominate another white male,” said Manuel Miranda, executive director of the Third Branch Conference, a Washington-based coalition of conservative groups that support Bush's judicial nominees.

“He had tremendous latitude in replacing O'Connor. Now having named a white male, he is going to be limited to qualified women, qualified Hispanics and qualified African Americans,” Miranda said to Bloomberg.

"I was honored and I was deeply touched when he came to the Capitol for the swearing-in last January," Bush said of the ailing chief justice's appearance at his second inauguration.

"He was a man of character and dedication. His departure represents a great loss for the court and for our country."

Flags flew at half-staff over the White House and other government buildings in Washington on Sunday to honor Rehnquist.

For Bush, the second opening is an opportunity to reshape the court, which has not had two openings since 1971. Rehnquist had been battling cancer for nearly a year and the White House had been preparing to name his replacement before O'Connor's surprise announcement she was stepping down, informs Reuters.

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