When President Bush suddenly second-guessed himself regarding Justice Sam Alito’s replacement on the 3rd Circuit, the rumors abounded.

Bush originally nominated Noel Hillman (currently a federal district judge in Camden, New Jersey) for the spot, but then ditched him, with no official statement concerning the hasty change of heart. Hillman apparently had his Justice Department background to blame. His previous position as Chief of the Public Integrity Section, pundits charged, ran him the high risk of too-close-for-comfort questioning by prying Dems on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And so it seems Bush has chosen another tack, dipping instead into the private practice sector of Jersey lawyers to find Shalom D. Stone, whose lack of any government employment makes his nomination as strategic as it is surprising, as he is relatively unknown. Indeed, he remains somewhat of a political enigma: Since he registered to vote in Union County, New Jersey in 1993, he has never declared a political affiliation. And unlike his heavily Democratic colleagues at the law firm Walder, Hayden, & Brogan, Stone has, at least since 1990, never made federal campaign contributions.

Don’t fret—he just may have some opinions: proof of possible conservative leanings lies in his reported membership in the New Jersey Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, which could make Stone persona non grata to the Democratic majority. Such an affiliation with the conservative group may add to the ire of Senate Democrats as Bush nominated Stone on the sly; W. eschewed the political courtesy of consulting with Stone’s Democratic home-state senators before announcing his decision.