Chief Justice Scalia? Rehnquist Illness Sparks Rumors

Article excerpt

Rumors are circulating in Washington that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have his eye on a promotion--to chief justice.

The current chief justice, William H. Rehnquist, suffers from thyroid cancer, and it is widely believed he will soon step down. That move will give President George W. Bush two slots to fill--he'll have to decide which justice will move up to chief and then replace that person. (Bush could name a new chief justice from outside the court, but that is considered unlikely.)

Some justices can safely be considered out of the running. John Paul Stevens is 84 years old and a liberal. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer were appointed by President Bill Clinton. David H. Sourer was appointed by Bush's father but has infuriated the right wing by championing the separation of church and state.

Appointing Sandra Day O'Connor might seem like a good move because it would give Bush an opportunity to name the first woman chief justice. But O'Connor has had health problems herself and is rumored to be interested in stepping down from the court. She's also considered too moderate on abortion. Anthony M. Kennedy isn't likely to go anywhere, but he has angered the Religious Right with his votes in favor of legal abortion and gay rights and against school-sponsored prayer.

That leaves Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Thomas' name has been bandied about by his fans, and appointing him would allow Bush to put an African American into a prominent slot. but there could be one problem: Thomas reportedly does not want the job.

Washington Post Supreme Court reporter Charles Lane reported Jan. 30 that Thomas, who went through a tough Senate confirmation battle in 1991 after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, is not eager to revisit any of that. (Appointment as chief justice requires Senate confirmation.)

Lane says an informal "Scalia for chief justice" boomlet is under way--and Scalia may be leading it. He noted that the normally combative justice put on a kinder, gentler face recently when he agreed to discuss international law Jan. 13 at American University with fellow justice Breyer. The normally media-shy Scalia even agreed to allow the event to be televised. …