By JESSE J. HOLLAND | Associated Press Writer
The possibility of two Supreme Court vacancies following Sandra Day O’Connor’s planned retirement and speculation surrounding Chief Justice William Rehnquist increases chances that President Bush will nominate the court’s first Hispanic justice, observers say.
That nomination would be a milestone for America’s fastest-growing minority group, whose vote is heavily coveted by politicians. At the same time, it could magnify the split between conservative and liberal Hispanic groups if a battle breaks out over the nominee’s ideology.
Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., say a qualified Hispanic shouldn’t have a problem being confirmed.
“I think that all of them have to live up to the same standards, and that is: Are they qualified? Are they going to be fair and impartial people on the bench?” Salazar said recently. Martinez added: “I believe a good, qualified Hispanic who happens to be a conservative will get a fair hearing.”
Court observers say it becomes more likely that Bush will pick a Hispanic if there is more than one position open on the high court. O’Connor announced her retirement last week; Rehnquist, 80 years old and fighting cancer, has not made any announcement but is being watched closely.
The names most often mentioned as possible Hispanic nominees are Attorney General Alberto Gonzales the first Latino attorney general and a close friend of the president and Judge Emilio Garza of the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Garza was President George H.W. Bush’s second choice for the Supreme Court after Clarence Thomas.
Longshot candidates include U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of Texas; Judge Edward Prado, also of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals; Chief Judge Danny Boggs, a Cuba native, of the 6th Circuit appeals court in Cincinnati; Judges Jose Cabranes and Sonia Sotomayor of the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court; and Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero III.
A possible Gonzales nomination has already drawn fire from some conservatives, including Hispanics, who don’t think he’s conservative enough.