WASHINGTON – President Bush should consult with senators before making his choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search), Democratic leaders said Thursday.
Meanwhile, first lady Laura Bush is elbowing her husband once again to nominate a woman. Others are pushing for a Hispanic.
The White House is working on finding a replacement for O'Connor, one of the swing votes on the Supreme Court (search). It took the Bush administration 18 days to make its initial choice after O'Connor announced her retirement.
Bush initially nominated federal appellate judge John Roberts (search) to succeed O'Connor, but on Monday nominated him to succeed Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (search), who died Saturday. Roberts, who will make his last courtesy visits to senators on Friday, will begin his confirmation hearing on Monday.
"We call on you to engage in meaningful consultation with us to identify a candidate for this crucial position who will unite the country, not divide it," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Democrats in a letter to the White House.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president is well aware of the consultation process, having done "unprecedented outreach" leading to the nomination of Roberts.
Mrs. Bush, in an interview Thursday with American Urban Radio Networks, said she didn't think the president would announce his nominee for the second vacancy until after the Roberts confirmation process.
"I think the president is going to wait until John Roberts is confirmed before he nominates the next person," said Mrs. Bush, who was rooting for a female nominee when Bush nominated Roberts. "As a woman myself, I hope it will be a woman."
Democrats want Bush to look for a consensus nominee like O'Connor.
"I hope the next nominee selected meets the high standards set by Justice O'Connor, reveres and treasures the freedoms on which our nation was built, and can bring the nation together as she has done often," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in a separate letter to the White House.
Perino said a nominee's credentials, ethics and temperament have been the traditional criteria for confirming justices. "That's what President Bush found in Judge Roberts and what he'll look for in the nominee for the new vacancy," she said. "The president has a constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to the bench, and no one should have veto power over the president's constitutional responsibility."
The Hispanic National Bar Association is strongly urging the president to nominate a Hispanic.
"The time in our country's history has come where our Supreme Court needs to better reflect the diversity of America," said Alan Varela, president of the Hispanic Bar. "President Bush bypassed the estimated 41.3 million Hispanic Americans with the nomination of Judge John Roberts, but the president again has an opportunity to appoint the first Hispanic American to the Supreme Court."