The death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist just days before Senate confirmation hearings for John G. Roberts Jr. set off a scramble in Washington yesterday and presented President Bush a historic opportunity to put his stamp on the Supreme Court for decades to come....What will be more important to Bush, appointing someone who will shape the law for decades or using the appointment to affect his current political standing? Obviously, the effect on the law is far more important, and, in fact, to make the decision he wants and let the chips fall where they may is what Bush usually does.
As they sift through names, White House advisers are weighing whether it would be better to announce a nominee quickly or to wait until after the situation in the Gulf Coast is better in hand and the Roberts confirmation process is finished. With his poll ratings at an all-time low, gasoline prices at a longtime high and U.S. troops suffering rising casualties in Iraq, Bush confronts a perilous point in his presidency.
As to the timing, what is the political advantage of waiting? Is the theory that he will be more popular in a month or two, so he ought to drag his heels and leave the Court without a Chief Justice? He might as well make the announcement quickly, while there are so many distractions keeping opponents from getting much attention. He's already been through the list over the Roberts nomination, and I can't believe he wasn't fully prepared to have this second appointment this soon.