As of this writing, the only clue we have to predict President Bush’s next Supreme Court nominee is general hinting that it will be a “diversity” pick. My first guess – maybe not so much a guess as a wish – about his O’Connor replacement before it became his Rehnquist replacement was Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Mr. Bush preferred a nominee like Scalia and Thomas and Brown qualified. Mrs. Bush preferred a woman and Brown qualified. The pundit class preferred a woman but not Brown.
Instead the President met with John Roberts and reportedly experienced a “gut instinct” revelation that he was The One. Although Roberts was on the list of potential nominees created by the pundit class, his selection defied the “diversity” expectations and therefore surprised.
My instincts tell me that one of Bush’s long-nurtured goals is to be the president who successfully nominates the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and he wants Alberto Gonzales to be that justice. Gonzales-for-SCOTUS trial balloons attributed to key conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration have been flying over the center-right blogosphere for months. I personally have not heard or read anything that has altered my opinion that Gonzales is a lukewarm conservative of the pragmatist variety. With his second term agenda derailed by so many unforeseen complications at home and abroad (Social Security, Iraq, Katrina, Rita, Frist and DeLay), now is not the time for Bush to make a choice seen by an already disheartened GOP base as an ideological betrayal.
If Bush does not select Gonzales this time, I suspect he will hope for a third vacancy to reward his patient friend with this historic appointment and again skip over exceptional Hispanics, such as Miguel Estrada (heavy sigh). If there is a Roberts prototype, the charming, brilliant Estrada comes close to matching it. So might Viet Dinh, Bush’s former Assistant Attorney General. Like Estrada, Dinh is an impressive immigrant with the kind of endearing biography that appeals especially to Bush and his would also be an historic appointment. However, as the primary author of the Patriot Act, Dinh would spend most of the Senate Judiciary hearings having to defend it.
So my cautious prediction is that, if not Gonzales, Bush will select a non-Hispanic who has earned his personal respect and trust. But, oh, how I hope for another happy surprise like Brown or Estrada.