WASHINGTON -- Mentioning the little-known Judge Edith Brown Clement as front-runner for the Supreme Court vacancy was not a ploy to obscure the eventual selection of Judge John Roberts. She was the real runner-up, after evoking mixed reviews from conservatives.
President Bush was very much impressed with Clement during his interview with her, and sources say he gave her a White House tour. However, anti-abortion activists were not happy, contending that she has no record on their issue. Clement's supporters say she is very well thought of by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and that she would follow his lead on the court. Princeton Professor Robert P. George, a social conservative and prominent Catholic layman, is a strong Clement backer who vouched for her.
Given Bush's early inclination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with another woman, the reason why he passed over Clement is not clear. Sources close to the selection process speculate that the president may have suspected that Clement's supporters were too vocal in publicly promoting her.
The confusion over whether Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is a member of the conservative Federalist Society extended to the White House. While one presidential aide privately was assuring conservatives Wednesday that Roberts belonged, another Bush assistant was telling a conference call of Roberts surrogates that he did not.
Roberts over the years often has been identified as a Federalist member, but he is reported now as telling Bush aides that he never joined the society. Federalist Society President Eugene Meyer told this column his organization does not reveal its members and disclosure is up to individuals.
A link to the Federalist Society, which has been highly critical of the Supreme Court's liberal decisions, could be used to attack Roberts's judicial objectivity.
RICHARDSON FOR PRESIDENT
Prominent New York City liberals who are concerned about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's electability are quietly talking up New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as her alternative for the 2008 presidential nomination.
Richardson especially intrigues Democratic strategists because he is a Hispanic American with a Mexican mother. Richardson would be expected to pin down the burgeoning Latino vote.