Sen. Robert C. Byrd, one of President Bush’s harshest critics, has become an unlikely ally on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr.
“I said to him, ‘I am shouting your name from the steeple tops for reaching out, reaching across the aisle,’” the West Virginia Democrat reported after taking a phone call from Mr. Bush to discuss a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
After Mr. Bush nominated federal Judge Roberts this week, Mr. Byrd again issued a statement praising the president. “I thank President Bush for reaching out to senators on both sides of the aisle as he worked to select a nominee for the court,” Mr. Byrd said. “I hope that this bipartisan cooperation will continue as the confirmation process begins.”
The senator’s praise of Mr. Bush is turnaround from a year ago when the West Virginian accused Mr. Bush of being a “green and arrogant president” who went to war before exhausting diplomacy.
During much of the presidential campaign, liberals turned to Mr. Byrd as an eloquent and bombastic critic of the war in Iraq and Mr. Bush in general. Mr. Byrd’s speeches on the Senate floor became rallying cries for Democrats, and the liberal activist group MoveOn.org featured the senator as a speaker and used him to raise money.
Mr. Byrd embraced the same judicial philosophy as the president in his memoir, “Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” released earlier this summer. In the book, he repeatedly blamed “liberal judges” and “activist judges” for many of the nation’s problems.
“One’s life is probably in no greater danger in the jungles of deepest Africa than in the jungles of America’s large cities,” he writes. “In my judgment, much of the problem has been brought about by the mollycoddling of criminals by some of the liberal judges who have been placed on the nation’s courts in recent years.”
Mr. Byrd essentially endorsed Mr. Bush’s primary stated strategy for picking Judge Roberts and other judicial nominees. “The high court’s share of the responsibility for our increasing lawlessness lies in two areas — its zeal for bringing about precipitous social change, and its overconcern for the rights of criminals and its underconcern for the rights and safety of society,” he writes.
Mr. Byrd detailed the advice he has given presidents about the importance of naming conservatives and strict constructionists to the bench.
“I urged President Nixon to appoint conservative jurists to the court,” he recalls in the book. “I said that such a return to a conservative philosophy would be ‘the greatest single service President Nixon could perform for his country.’ I said that the court had hurt the United States with its rulings on school prayer and in criminal cases, and had given aid and comfort to subversives by refusing to bar communists from schools and defense plants.”
Mr. Byrd is up for re-election next year in a state that Mr. Bush won last year by 13 percentage points despite heavy campaigning by Democrats.
A poll conducted in May shows Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, three points behind Mr. Byrd even though Mrs. Capito hasn’t announced that she will run against the old-guard senator.
“For Senator Byrd, desperate times require desperate measures,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “As recent polling shows him below 50 percent and in a dead heat against a prospective opponent, he’ll apparently try anything.”