Saturday, July 09, 2005

SCOTUS Watch: Rumor-Mill Goes Mainstream

On Friday, the feeding frenzy over rumors that Chief Justice Rehnquist might resign was basically limited to cable news (Bob Novak and the rest of the punditocracy), Matt Drudge, the blogosphere (covered here), and this mind-boggling AP story (which had half the Court retiring before the day was out). This morning, the papers of record get into the act.

The Washington Post and New York Times each have lengthy articles today; since the tag-team authors of those (Peter Baker and Jo Becker for the WaPo, Lawrence Altman and Linda Greenhouse for the NYT) seem to know just about as much as the rest of us, the main focus of each piece is, well, the rumors that were flying around yesterday. If you missed those, I live-blogged them through the afternoon and early evening, here.

Altman and Greenhouse write that "rumors of an imminent retirement announcement by Chief Justice Rehnquist reached a frenzy of bizarre proportions" Friday, and go on to provide a brief run-through of the various scenarios (Monday retirement, then Friday morning retirement, then Friday afternoon retirement, then multiple retirements ...).

And while the flurry of speculation went on outside, where was the Chief? Working at the Court, the Times says, "as he has every day since the court finished its term 11 days ago."

The Post offers up the same scenario wrap-up, but includes this at the end: "If the White House received a sealed envelope from the Supreme Court, as it did a week ago from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, it kept that news to itself." This possibility, that Rehnquist has officially dispatched his letter of retirement, but the White House is sitting on it until a later date (presumably Monday) began to make the rounds even before evening was over yesterday:

- Raw Story: "... he may have already issued his resignation to President Bush, senior aides say, but most no longer believe the resignation will be announced Friday."

- RedState: "I am reliably told that details are being worked out to give the Chief Justice an appropriate send off as the head of the third branch of American government. While the official announcement may be delayed to allow time to coordinate ..."

- Josh Marshall: "A tip from a reporter friend ... 'I'm told word among the WH press corps is that Rehnquist has already submitted his letter, but the WH is sitting on it until next week because they want this weekend to be All Terrorism, All the Time.' Wouldn't surprise me."

- Chris Geidner: "If I had to guess, I would say that even if he had been planning on announcing his retirement today, he would wait until Monday to give London the weekend. The Chief obviously has a keen sense of history, and I can see him giving the London bombings the weekend to make the path through the American media (i.e., Sunday news shows) before overwhelming it with the news of his retirement."

- Wonkette: "... Anyway, according to our operative, Bush did receive word that Rehnquist was retiring (perhaps as Air Force One touched down!), but he (or, you know, whoever actually runs things) wanted focus attention on the event at the British Embassy. The admin wants news this weekend to focus on terrorism and not the court."

The possibility exists. The motivation for holding out on announcing the retirement is, of course, up for debate: respect for the London bombing victims, planning an appropriate send-off for the Chief Justice, wanting to keep the focus on terrorism, presidential jet-lag ... pick one. Or make up your own. I think it will be difficult - even for this secrecy-minded White House - to sit on news this big for any extended period of time. A weekend in Washington is an awfully long time.

Yesterday's feeding frenzy was quite a moment, and its trajectories are well documented at the end of the WaPo story, which notes "[t]he rumors became almost comically specific" as the afternoon wore on, only with each deadline to come and go. By the end, the piece notes, their source (in this case, "a White House aide without first-hand knowledge") was telling them "It is coming Monday from what I am hearing. Live it up this weekend."

Our known knowns, as the SecDef would say, are few. We know that Rehnquist went to work yesterday. We know that his famous wit remains intact ("that's for me to know and you to find out"). We know that, contrary to all the fuss, there was no announcement of a retirement on Friday. And really, that's about it. Was a letter delivered? Or a verbal notification, with letter/announcement to follow Monday? Or nothing at all? As they say, those who know aren't talking, and those who are talking don't know.

Stay tuned.


At 9:51 AM, Blogger cakreiz said...

So now we have full-blown preemptive news- "all of the hunches that are fit to print." I don't understand... is it simply too many reporters trying not to get scooped? Makes bloggers look tame.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard the George Bush is going to dig up Hitler and nom. him for the position on the Supreme Court.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Oz said...

I am a consumer of the feeding frenzy so I guess that makes me part of the problem.

It is a FUN feeding frenzy.

Too bad the rumors of Stevens retiring were'nt true.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger kid site said...

that was very long


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