Rich Galen speculates in his Mullings column today on the possibility of three Supreme Court vacancies this summer.
Assuming Chief Justice Rehnquist retires and President Bush nominates one of the remaining Associate Justices to be Chief Justice (either Thomas or Scalia) then there would be three vacancies to be filled.
This presents an intriguing opportunity for the President. Assuming for a moment that Rehnquist does retire and President Bush wanted to elevate an associate judge, which one would he choose? I would consider Justice Thomas as my top pick. First, at age 56, he's the youngest of the justices. Second, it allows the President to make a "legacy" nomination by naming the first African-American Chief Justice.
Then, if the President wants to continue to make "legacy" appointments he could nominate Janice Rogers Brown (she would become the first African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court). He could also put a Hispanic justice on the court by nominating Miguel Estrada, Emilio Garza or even Alberto Gonzales (although he seems to be too moderate for many conservative groups to support).
Ethnic considerations aside, the one thing all of these candidates have in common is that they are highly respected jurists. All of them are highly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and are worthy of careful consideration.
By having three vacancies to fill at once there will be pressure on the Senate leadership to move quickly on confirmation hearings to have a full Court by October. If the Senate decides to drag its feet, the President can always use his recess appointment power to fill the vacancies until the end of 2006. By that point, the Congressional elections may provide Republicans with a larger margin in the Senate making it easier to confirm judicial nominees.
It could be a very interesting summer.
Cross-posted at Stones Cry Out.