President Bush will nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, rebounding from a rebuke over his first choice by tapping a conservative federal judge to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Bush plans to announce the nomination at 8 a.m. EST, two senior Republican officials confirmed Monday.
The White House hopes the choice mends a rift in the Republican Party caused by his failed nomination of Harriet Miers, and puts his troubled presidency on a path to political recovery. But Democrats already put the White House on notice that a conservative judge such as Alito would create problems.
Miers bowed out last Thursday after three weeks of bruising criticism from members of Bush's own party who argued that the Texas lawyer and loyal Bush confidant had thin credentials on constitutional law and no proven record as a judicial conservative.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity said Alito was virtually certain to get the nod from the moment Miers backed out. The 55-year-old jurist was Bush's favorite choice of the judges in the last set of deliberations but he settled instead on someone outside what he calls the "judicial monastery," the officials said.
Bush believes that Alito has not only the right experience and conservative ideology for the job, but he also has a temperament suited to building consensus on the court. A former prosecutor, Alito has experience off the bench that factored into Bush's thinking.
While Alito is expected to win praise from Bush's allies on the right, Democrats have served notice that his nomination would spark a partisan brawl. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said that Alito's nomination would "create a lot of problems."
Unlike Miers, who has never been a judge, Alito, a 55-year-old jurist from New Jersey, has been a strong conservative voice on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since former President George H.W. Bush seated him there in 1990.
So consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
With the embarrassing withdrawal of the Miers nomination last week, the rising death toll in Iraq and Friday's indictment of top vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency. Polls show Democrats and most independents don't approve of his job performance, leaving the conservative wing of his party the only thing keeping Bush afloat politically.
Conservative activists derailed Miers nomination, saying she did not have the experience and the nomination smacked of cronyism. Miers is White House counsel and a longtime friend of the president.
Liberal groups in the meanwhile note Alito's moniker and say his nomination raises troubling concerns, especially when it comes to his record on civil rights and reproductive rights. Alito is a frequent dissenter on the 3rd Circuit, one of the most liberal federal appellate benches in the nation.
The nomination of Alito could end the intense speculation over who would replace O'Connor, the AP reports.