EXCLUSIVE: Women, Minorities Top Bush's Supreme Court Short List

Either could have been a likely replacement for O'Connor in 2005, but leading Senate Republicans told the White House not to nominate them because they were seen as too controversial at the time. Now that both are on the federal bench, the White House has put them back on a working short list.

Of the two, Owen is the best known in the White House and is generally considered less controversial than the more outspoken Brown.

Owen, like Brown, also has gotten high marks from her colleagues on the federal appeals court. But Owen's friendship with Karl Rove could hurt her, especially in a White House vulnerable to charges of cronyism.

The White House also is looking at Chicago-based federal appeals court Judge Diane Sykes, who is considered conservative but less controversial, sources close to the process said. But Sykes is not as well known inside the administration, which is a strike against her, White House sources said.

Bush does not want to repeat the mistake of his father, who nominated the unknown David Souter, believing he was conservative only to see Souter quickly become one of the Court's most reliable liberal votes.

Another prospect who was seriously considered for the O'Connor vacancy also remains in the mix, New Orleans federal appeals court Judge Edith Brown Clement. Clement interviewed with Bush in 2005, when he selected Roberts.

With the focus squarely on women and minorities, the White House also has expanded its search to include judges who were not seriously considered two years ago.

Federal District Judge Loretta Preska, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush, is getting a close look, as is Raoul Cantero, a judge on the Florida Supreme Court.

Cantero became the first Hispanic to serve on the state supreme court when then-Gov. Jeb Bush nominated him in 2002.

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