Federal Judge Stephen G. Breyer, a top candidate in President Clinton's last search for a Supreme Court justice, suddenly has joined U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Judge Richard S. Arnold on the short White House list of candidates to replace Justice Harry A. Blackmun, officials said.
Arnold, an erudite appeals court judge with support from both parties, has risen in the search amid predictions that President Clinton will announce his choice this week. Federal District Judge Jose A. Cabranes and federal appeals Judge Amalya Kearse of New York are also said to be in the running.
Clinton and top White House officials met Tuesday afternoon to talk further about the candidates. But the meeting broke up without a decision, officials said, and Clinton headed off to play golf on a balmy spring afternoon.
A final decision "may hit him on the 16th fairway," said one aide.
Breyer, who sits on the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, has been touted by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and also has strong support from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee. In recent days, Hatch has warned the White House that fears Babbitt would be a judicial activist could crystallize opposition in the Senate.
Breyer's selection would win Clinton high marks from the legal community and would ensure Clinton of a smooth nomination proceeding in the Senate. But Breyer is not the political figure of broad experience that Clinton has said he would like. Breyer's nomination also would disappoint those who want another member of a minority group on the court and would make it more difficult for Clinton to name a white male later if he gets another court appointment.
Supporters of Arnold were alarmed Tuesday by a news report that White House officials had become concerned that Arnold's investments and aspects of his personal life could complicate his possible nomination.
"That's pure hatchetry," one supporter said. Said another, Washington lawyer Steven M. Umin: "You couldn't find a cleaner whistle" than Arnold.
Times staff writers John M. Broder and Melissa Healy contributed to this story.