- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

President Bush last night nominated staunch conservative John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, saying the Harvard-educated lawyer and appeals court judge will “strictly apply the Constitution and laws — not legislate from the bench.”

“A nominee to that court must be a person of superb credentials and the highest integrity, a person who will faithfully apply the Constitution and keep our founding promise of equal justice under law,” the president said in a nationally televised, prime-time announcement. “I have found such a person in Judge John Roberts.”

In picking the 50-year-old former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, Mr. Bush rejected much speculation that he would nominate a centrist or a woman to replace the high court’s first woman, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her retirement July 1.

His choice prompted immediate opposition from such liberal groups as People for the American Way and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which criticized a 1990 legal briefing he wrote while serving in the first President Bush’s administration that called for the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalizing abortion to be “overruled.”

But the president said Judge Roberts is the best candidate to replace the swing vote of Justice O’Connor, who often broke 4-4 ties on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, states’ rights and the death penalty.

“He has a good heart. He has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness and civility. He has profound respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen,” the president said as he stood side by side with Judge Roberts in the White House East Room.

Judge Roberts, accompanied by his wife, Jane, and two children, said it was both “an honor and very humbling to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court.”

The judge served in President Reagan’s Justice Department and was principal deputy solicitor general in President George Bush’s administration. He also has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court and said that experience “left me with a profound appreciation for the role of the court in our constitutional democracy and a deep regard for the court as an institution.”

“I always got a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the court, and I don’t think it was just from the nerves,” he said.

“I am very grateful for the confidence the president has shown in nominating me, and I look forward to the next step in the process before the United States Senate.”

Reaction on Capitol Hill was swift, albeit muted. While advocacy groups immediately opposed the nomination, especially after members of the Bush administration sought opinions from more than 70 members of the U.S. Senate before the president announced his decision.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said, “I will not prejudge this nomination.

“The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry,” the Nevada Democrat said. “The Senate must review Judge Roberts’ record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness.”

Added Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat: “I look forward to the committee’s findings so that I can make an informed decision about whether Judge Roberts is truly a guardian of the rule of law who puts fairness and justice before ideology.”

Pro-choice groups were more biting.

“We are extremely disappointed that President Bush has chosen such a divisive nominee for the highest court in the nation, rather than a consensus nominee who would protect individual liberty and uphold Roe v. Wade,” NARAL Pro-Choice America said.

In 1990, Judge Roberts co-wrote a legal brief that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

“The court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion … finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution,” the brief said. “We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled.”

But during his 2003 confirmation hearing, the judge said he would be guided by legal precedent.

“Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. … There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent,” Judge Roberts told senators in May 2003.

In last night’s announcement, Mr. Bush cited a 2001 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee from more than 140 members of the D.C. Bar, including a former counsel to two Democratic presidents.

“Although as individuals we reflect a wide spectrum of political party affiliation and ideology, we are united in our belief that John Roberts will be an outstanding federal court [of] appeals judge and should be confirmed by the United States Senate,” the president cited the letter as saying.

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups will likely bring up several rulings and briefs from the judge’s past. In private practice, Judge Roberts wrote a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Congress had failed to justify a Department of Transportation affirmative-action program.

During his tenure in the first Bush administration, Judge Roberts co-authored an amicus brief arguing that public high-school graduation programs could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court disagreed 5-4.

Also during his time in the first Bush administration, Judge Roberts helped argue before the court — successfully this time — that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not talk to patients about abortion.

Unlike some of the judges put forward by Mr. Bush, Judge Roberts was considered so noncontroversial when he was nominated to the federal court in May 2003 that the Senate skipped a recorded vote and approved him by unanimous consent.

Republicans last night praised the nomination.

“Judge Roberts is the kind of outstanding nominee that will make America proud. He embodies the qualities America expects in a justice on its highest court — someone who is fair, intelligent, impartial and committed to faithfully interpreting the Constitution and the law,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said.

Praise also quickly poured in from conservative and pro-life groups.

The Family Research Council called Judge Roberts “exceptionally well-qualified,” and Concerned Women for America said, “No reasonable person can claim that Judge Roberts is ‘out of the mainstream.’”

Added the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life: “I am thrilled that the president has kept his promise by selecting a nominee who understands the importance of strictly adhering to the Constitution.”

Judge Roberts was first nominated for a federal appeals court seat in 1992 by President George Bush and again by the current president in 2001. The nominations died in Democrat-led Senates both times. He was renominated in January 2003 and joined the court in June 2003.

The president’s announcement last night was the subject of intense scrutiny throughout the day. At first, the name of Judge Edith Brown Clement emerged, with several news organizations — including the Associated Press — putting her forward as the choice. Later in the day, news agencies backed off Judge Clement and several other names emerged.

The White House held an “embargoed, off camera briefing” at 7:45 p.m. on the president’s decision, and so Judge Roberts’ was being reported as the nominee even before Mr. Bush stepped to the podium. The White House said Mr. Bush took with him 11 names of top candidates under consideration when he went to Denmark on July 5.

In the past few days, he interviewed five candidates, including Judge Roberts on Friday. Judge Roberts was treated to a presidential tour of the residence, including the Lincoln Bedroom, during his one-hour visit.

Mr. Bush made his decision last night, and during lunch with Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday, stepped out of the room to call his nominee.

When he returned, he said to the group, which included the leaders’ wives: “I just offered the job to a great, smart 50-year-old lawyer who has agreed to serve on the bench.”

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