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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July, 2005, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
'Woman needed' for top US court
Retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Justice O'Connor has been dubbed the most powerful woman in the US
US First Lady Laura Bush has said she hopes her husband will nominate another woman to replace retiring Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O'Connor.

Her remarks came as President Bush met top senators to discuss the issue for the first time since Justice O'Connor announced her retirement on 1 July.

The senators did not reveal any names of possible nominees after the meeting.

But they said both Democrats and Republicans were seeking consensus on the nomination.

Democratic senators have said they will oppose a conservative nominee.

Ms O'Connor, 75, is regarded as a centrist and has often cast the deciding vote on the nine-member court. She will be the first justice of the court to retire since 1994.

One possible replacement is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a close ally of Mr Bush.

But he is opposed by conservatives, who regard him as being too liberal on such issues as abortion and affirmative action.

Mr Bush says he wants his nominee to be approved by the time the court convenes for a new session in October.

'Listening mode'

His wife, who is visiting southern Africa, told the NBC network in an interview from Cape Town that she was an admirer of Ms O'Connor.

Laura Bush
Mrs Bush said she knew her husband would make a good choice

"I would really like him to name another woman," Mrs Bush said. "I know that my husband will pick somebody who has a lot of integrity and strength."

The president met Republican senators Bill Frist and Arlen Specter and Democrats Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy for breakfast.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr Bush was in "listening mode".

Mr Reid, the Senate Minority leader, said names of possible replacements were mentioned.

"He didn't give any names," he said. "There were a lot of names discussed in the meeting.

Summer recess

Mr Reid said he was confident a consensus could be reached on a candidate.

"I think we're at a time in the history of this country where we've had enough discussion, debate and contention on judges," he said, quoted by AFP news agency.

"[Majority leader] Senator Frist and I want to avoid that as the two leaders of the Senate."

But there was concern that without a nomination soon it might be difficult to approve a candidate by October.

Congress is generally in recess during August, and hearings may not begin until September.


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