Will Bush Nominate a Woman? ; Interest Groups Opt for Ideology over Gender

Article excerpt

"Wise old men and wise old women usually decide cases the same way," Sandra Day O'Connor is fond of saying.

Indeed, as America's first female Supreme Court justice, now retiring from the bench, she is known for playing down the impact of her "femaleness" in her approach to work.

But as President Bush considers Justice O'Connor's replacement, gender is very much an issue. If he replaces O'Connor with a man, the high court goes back to eight men and one woman, hardly a balance that looks like America.

Ironically, though, Bush faces little outside pressure to replace O'Connor with another woman - largely because the most vocal interest groups, from both the left and the right, are focused on how the nominee might rule on various hot-button issues. "I think ideology for them trumps gender," says Linda Fowler, a political scientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Still, as soon as O'Connor announced her resignation, the White House made clear it would consider women nominees. The Bush administration has also floated the name of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, raising expectations of a historic nomination of the first Hispanic to the high court.

"I suppose he can get away with not selecting a woman if he selects a Hispanic," says John Zogby, an independent pollster. "That's the only scenario, though. .. White guys need not apply this time."

For this White House, placing women and minorities in high-level appointments is not a matter of political correctness. It is the way Mr. Bush has operated throughout his political life - often counting women and minorities among his most trusted advisers, and openly admiring the battles they have faced to get where they are.

Women in Bush's life

Strong women are at the center of his life, starting with his mother and wife, and extending to many political appointments, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and political adviser Karen Hughes.

"In theory, the administration is opposed to affirmative action, but in practice they have been following it in true form, searching out well-qualified women and minorities," says Sheldon Goldman, an expert on judicial selection at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "From their perspective, if you share our philosophy, we bring you in under our tent, and if you don't, goodbye and good luck."

Bush faces demands from numerous constituencies that matter to him - including the social conservatives who were key to his election and Hispanics, now the largest minority in America and a voting bloc the Republican Party has vigorously sought. So far, no Hispanic females have emerged in public speculation for the Supreme Court vacancy. The list of women being mentioned includes several white females and one African American, Janice Rogers Brown, who was recently confirmed to the D. …