WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate committee that will oversee hearings on President Bush's Supreme Court nominee said Sunday that he would like to see a moderate in the tradition of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search) and perhaps someone with experience in politics.
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said he didn't want to recommend a specific candidate because of his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he said he would like to see a nominee who has experience outside the judiciary, which would rule out many of the candidates that Bush is said to be considering.
The candidates mentioned most often are federal appeals court judges: Samuel Alito, Emilio Garza, J. Michael Luttig, John Roberts Jr., Michael McConnell and J. Harvie Wilkinson III.
Specter said on "FOX News Sunday" that he would like Bush to pick "somebody who's had more experience, somebody who's been out in the world and has a more varied background." He said someone who has been in politics might be a good choice.
"I have expressed the view that it would be useful, in my judgment, to have somebody on the court who does not come from the graduates of the courts of appeals," Specter said. "When you look back at the court which handed down Brown v. Board of Education (search) unanimously, there was an ex-governor, there were three ex-senators, two attorneys general, a solicitor general, a professor and somebody from the SEC."
Specter encouraged Bush not to bow to pressure from conservative groups and instead try to preserve the existing ideological balance on the court -- meaning that his nominee would be a moderate like O'Connor.
Bush "stands in a position where he has to put a person on not where the president would be beholden to any group, no matter how much they contributed to his election, but something in the national interest," Specter said. "And when you have these very delicate questions, it's helpful to the country to have somebody who is a swing vote, which maintains the balance."
New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, suggested that Bush ask key senators from both parties about some of the candidates he's considering. He said that could avoid a contentious confirmation process.
"We know that the president's nominee is going to be a conservative," Schumer said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "No question. President himself is a conservative. But it can be a Sandra Day O'Connor-type conservative -- thoughtful, willing to see the other side, pragmatic. Or it can be someone way, way off the deep end. And I'm hoping that there can be a consensus nominee."