WASHINGTON -- President Bush settled on a nominee for the Supreme Court on Tuesday and the White House made arrangements for a nationally televised prime time announcement. "I'll let you know when I'm ready," he said at a midday news conference where he declined to tip his hand.
That only intensified speculation on his choice for the first opening on the court in more than a decade and a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
The announcement was set for 9 p.m. EDT from the East Room of the White House. The nominee's family was expected to be with Bush and the candidate.
One list that circulated was top-heavy with the names of women. Judge Edith Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans was among them. Another female candidate thought to have been under consideration was Edith Hollan Jones, who also serves on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Bush said he had considered "a variety of people, people from different walks of life."
On Capitol Hill, it was anyone's guess.
Senate Republican leaders said they had not been given the name by the White House. "Presidents like to be the first to announce presidential appointments," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., and the No. 2 Republican leader.
The tension was palpable in the West Wing of the White House; after a day of intense speculation, White House press secretary Scott McClellan walked into the press briefing room and said bluntly: "The president has made a decision and will be announcing his nominee to the Supreme Court at 9 o'clock." McClellan said the American people expected that the Senate confirmation process would be a dignified one.
Other names that have been mentioned are Maura Corrigan, a judge on the Michigan Supreme Court; Cecilia M. Altonaga, a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Florida; Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor; Karen Williams from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.; Janice Rogers Brown, recently confirmed by the Senate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and Priscilla Owen, who was just confirmed for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other possible candidates are conservative federal appellate court judges Samuel Alito, J. Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, John Roberts Jr., Emilio Garza and J. Harvie Wilkinson III; and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson.
Bush had said ever since O'Connor's July 1 announcement that he wanted to move with some speed and that he wanted the new justice to be seated before the court begins its fall term in October.
The dynamic might have changed a bit when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist last week put out word that he had no intention of stepping down and that he would continue on the court despite his battle with thyroid cancer. Nevertheless, with Congress nearing a summer recess and then a busy September, some time pressure was unavoidable.
Though Washington was abuzz with speculation about Clement, the president ignored a question about what he thought of her.
"I guess the best way to say it is, I'll let you know when I'm ready to tell you who it is," the president said. He jokingly acknowledged that he was trying to dodge the question.
"I'm comfortable with where we are in the process," the president said. He said he has considered a variety of people from different walks of life, some of whom he knew before and some he had never met.
"I do have an obligation to think about people from different backgrounds that have shared the same philosophy, people who will not legislate from the bench," Bush said. He spoke at a press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
At Clement's office in New Orleans, a man who identified himself as a law clerk said the judge was not available. "That's what I've been instructed to say," he told a caller who asked if she were in Washington.
In anticipation of a selection, officials said the White House had contacted selected Republican senators they hoped would serve as advocates for the nominee in media interviews in the initial time following an announcement. Democrats scoured the rulings and writings of leading contenders, including Clement, a 57-year-old jurist who was confirmed on a 99-0 vote by the Senate when she was elevated to the appeals court in 2001.
White House officials have refused to discuss the names of top prospects being considered as a replacement for the departing O'Connor, who was the first woman appointed to the court.