Supreme runner-up

Robert Novak

7/23/2005 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

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.

NON-FEDERALIST ROBERTS

 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.

 The same New York liberals who are interested in Richardson fear George W. Bush could build Republican support among Latinos by appointing a Hispanic American to the next Supreme Court vacancy.

NEW HAMPSHIRE BLUNDER

 Sen. George Allen of Virginia, the hottest early prospect for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, blundered on his visit to New Hampshire May 3 by conducting two fund-raisers there.

 GOP insiders in the nation's earliest primary state did not want to criticize him publicly, but called Allen's New Hampshire performance "odd." That's because presidential candidates are supposed to spend funds in the state, not take money out. Allen was raising money for his 2006 Senate re-election campaign.

 Sen. John McCain of Arizona, landslide winner of the last contested New Hampshire Republican presidential primary in 2000, would be an early favorite in the state if he runs. McCain, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska are getting the kind of advice from New Hampshire that Allen apparently lacked when he conducted his fund-raisers.

FIGHTING GLOBAL TAXES

 Supporters of John Bolton, U.S. ambassador-designee to the United Nations whose confirmation is stalled by a filibuster, are urging a recess appointment enabling him to oppose global taxes in the UN.

 French President Jacques Chirac has suggested an international tax on airline travel, and the UN recently considered taxes on arms sales, currency exchanges or a global lottery. The House last Tuesday approved a proposal to require any U.S. envoy at the UN to oppose global taxes.

 The measure, sponsored by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, was passed by voice vote. Several Republican House members, however, would have preferred a roll call vote to reveal who supports a global tax.