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White House sends mixed signals on court vacancy

'Lots of options' on table, Card says

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is still considering ''lots of options" to fill a second vacancy on the Supreme Court, White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said yesterday.

Card's comments could be a sign that Bush needs more time to make a final decision on his choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative and often pivotal swing vote on the divided nine-member high court.

But other officials have suggested that an announcement was possible within days. White House spokesman Scott McClellan left open the possibility that it could be this week.

It is not uncommon for the White House to send mixed signals just before an important announcement. Bush announced the nomination of John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court on July 19, just one day after telling reporters, ''I'm going to take my time."

Bush is scheduled to go the court today for the formal ceremony at which Roberts will preside in the courtroom for the first time as chief justice.

The White House has not said which judges are under consideration to replace O'Connor, but women and minorities were believed to be high on the short list of candidates.

Bush spent part of the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat with Card, who would typically be involved in any deliberations on candidates for the Supreme Court.

Asked whether he had made a decision as he arrived back at the White House yesterday, Bush did not respond. But Card told reporters: ''He's still working . . . still considering lots of options."

O'Connor has announced her retirement but is staying on until her successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Bush on Friday completed consultations with the Senate on who should be his nominee. McClellan said the president and the White House staff had consulted with more than 80 senators.

Senate Democrats, in the minority, have warned Bush to expect a more contentious fight over the O'Connor seat than took place over Roberts, who was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in Thursday.

Bush and his top aides consider the process of picking O'Connor's replacement secret. But the names of some potential nominees have surfaced from legal analysts and aides on Capitol Hill.

They include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; White House counsel Harriet Miers; former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, a corporate lawyer; and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan. Two other possibilities were appeals court Judges Alice Moore Batchelder and Karen Williams.

Another possibility was Maureen Mahoney, a Washington lawyer who, like Roberts, is a former deputy solicitor general. One Senate Republican aide described her as ''another John Roberts."

Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, speaking on ABC's ''This Week," welcomed diversity on the court. ''That means sometimes there's a lot of disagreement. But that's good. That isn't bad because we're a big country, and there are people of many different points of view, and it's helpful, not harmful, to have a court made up of people of diverse backgrounds, points of view, and so forth," he said.

But he also cautioned: ''Presidents don't get necessarily the judge they want if they mean to appoint a judge whom they think will always decide in their favor. That doesn't happen. But probably they want persons of an outlook that they think is somewhat compatible with their own. Therefore, you end up with a court of people of different outlooks."

Yesterday Bush attended Mass in Washington with members of the Supreme Court, including Roberts, Breyer, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony M. Kennedy. Miers was also in attendance.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., greeted Bush and told the standing-room-only crowd that they were there to pray for Roberts and for guidance in the new term. Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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