Second vacancy on Supreme Court rare

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    By Peter Kranenburg

    The last double vacancy on the Supreme Court in 1971 allowed President Nixon to appoint a Justice Department lawyer named William H. Rehnquist. Rehnquist?s death now provides President Bush the same opportunity Nixon had 24 years ago.

    Having two vacancies on the highest court in the land is a rare occurrence at best. It has only happened four other times in the last 100 years.

    ?It?s a huge opportunity,? said Tom Lee, associate professor of law at BYU. ?Two out of nine votes are obviously going to have a big impact.?

    With the nomination of John G. Roberts as chief justice, Bush assured that the court will be lead by a conservative voice for many years to come. Roberts, 50, is the second-youngest man ever to be nominated to the position.

    More crucial, however, may be the second justice seat Bush must fill. Justice Sandra Day O?Connor has said she will stay on until the president can find another replacement for her seat. O?Connor has been a moderate voice on the court throughout her years as an associate justice.

    ?O?Connor?s replacement will affect the court more because she has been the swing vote,? said Kristin Gerdy, director of the Rex E. Lee Advocacy program at BYU. ?[Her] replacement could swing the court conservative if [Bush] can get a conservative.?

    Past nominations have not always performed the way that the president thought they would. Bush also faces pressure from republicans and democrats to choose a woman, preferably, a minority woman.

    ?I think the administration understands the history of past nominations,? said Lee, who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. ?The administration is going to be very careful. You never can be certain, but they will pick someone whose views are going to be in line with the Presidents?.?

    There are three women on the list of potential nominees: Janice Brown, Edith Clement and Edith Jones. Clement and Jones both serve on the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit.

    Clement has been serving on the 5th circuit for four years and Jones for 20 years.

    Brown is less experienced on the U.S. Court of Appeals. She was confirmed last month for the Washington D.C. Circuit. Brown served for nine years before that as a California Supreme Court Justice.

    Gerdy feels Brown would be a wise choice for President Bush.

    ?Brown was a strong voice of reason of the California Supreme Court,? Gerdy said. ?Her opinions are well thought out and she would bring a fresh perspective because she?s coming from a state supreme court in the West.?

    Other potential nominees include Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, J. Michael Luttig and Michael McConnell.

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