Conservative guru Bill Kristol has predicted that 10th Circuit Judge Michael McConnell will be the next Chief Justice. (Hat tip: Volokh.) McConnell would be a savvy pick in many ways. He’s very conservative, very religious, and very very smart. He’s highly respected in legal circles, and you would see academics from all ideological perspectives coming out in favor of his nomination, although some liberal interest groups opposed him for the 10th Circuit and would likely do so again for the Supremes (note, however, this point-by-point response to the interest groups’ attacks, written by a non-conservative law professor). His big drawback: he’s a white guy, so Bush would get no credit for naming the "first [black/Hispanic/female/whatever] Chief Justice" to the Court, something that Bush probably wants to do. It will be interesting to see if that’s enough to take McConnell out of the running.
In other news, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner has definitively taken himself out of the running for a Supreme Court appointment by publicly acknowledging that he’s an atheist (he may have done this before, but I hadn’t seen it). Posner was never likely to get the nod anyway – he’s too much of a maverick, and he has written so prolifically that at some point he’s managed to piss off just about everyone. But the so-called "base" of the Republican party – the religious conservatives who really care about judicial nominations – would be most unhappy about Bush appointing an avowed atheist, even one who has one of the most highly respected legal minds in the country.