U.S. Appellate Court Judge Samuel Alito, Jr., named yesterday to the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of nominee Harriett Miers’s withdrawl, was one of the finalists personally interviewed by the President last summer in the process culminating in the nomination of John Roberts to the nation’s highest court.
At a briefing at the White House less than two hours after the President introduced Alito and his family in remarks televised nationally, Press Secretary Scott McClellan revealed to reporters that the 54-year-old jurist was one of a handful of candidates along with Roberts that the president interviewed to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Roberts, of course, was eventually nominated but then re-named to be chief justice following the death of William Rehnquist in August. When I asked McClellan if that was the same series of meetings with four other Court candidates besides Roberts referred to in several published reports (notably a front-page story in the New York Times), McClellan told me "That sounds correct."
In so doing, the press secretary came a step closer to confirming a report in HUMAN EVENTS last week citing sources close to Appellate Judge Edith H. Jones of Texas that, contrary to the Times report, she was not one of those interviewed along with Roberts. Roberts, Judges Alito and J. Harvie Wilkinson, and Edith Clement have now been confirmed as four of the five candidates whom the President personally met with following O’Connor’s retirement announcement. The Times also cited sources who said that 4th Circuit Appellate Judge J. Michael Luttig was also interviewed but this has not yet been confirmed.
Recalling the President’s positive impresson from his meeting with Alito last summer and the developments following White House Counsel Miers’ request October 27th to withdraw her name from consideration, McClellan said that Bush was "very much focused on Judge Alito" as a replacement.
McClellan then shared with reporters what he dubbed the "tic toc" of the Alito nomination: White House Chief of Staff Andy Card spoke "two or three times" with the New Jersey jurist on Thursday and Friday; "At 12:40 PM on Friday, after returning from Norfolk (Va.)," the President telephoned Alito to ask him if he would serve on the Supreme Court; at 7:00 AM, McClellan added, Mr. Bush met with Alito in the Oval Office for twenty minutes and "formally offered him" the nomination; they were joined by the judge’s wife and two children after twenty minutes, and then went out and met the press, the President’s top spokesman said.