Video: Supreme Court timetable

updated 7/7/2005 6:01:23 PM ET 2005-07-07T22:01:23

President Bush on Wednesday assailed critics of potential Supreme Court nominee Alberto Gonzales, from the political right as well as the left. The Senate’s top Democrat said the U.S. attorney general was qualified but wouldn’t necessarily get “an easy way through” confirmation.

Even before Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her plans to retire, some conservatives had begun warning Bush about selecting Gonzales, the former White House counsel, objecting to his record on abortion and affirmative action.

Liberals, meanwhile, have expressed reservations about Gonzales’ decisions on prisoner treatment, death penalty cases and executive privilege.

At a news conference during his European trip, Bush defended Gonzales, a friend since the president’s time as Texas governor.

“I don’t like it when a friend gets criticized. I’m loyal to my friends,” Bush told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark. “All of a sudden this fellow, who is a good public servant and a really fine person, is under fire. And so, do I like it? No, I don’t like it, at all.”

Reid: ‘Alberto Gonzales is qualified’
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a frequent critic of the president, said Gonzales had the credentials to sit on the court, but he indicated confirmation might not be smooth.

The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Gonzales as attorney general, 60-36, despite complaints from Democrats that he had had a role in establishing White House policies that led to the abuse of prisoners held in the terrorism fight.

“Alberto Gonzales is qualified. He’s attorney general of the United States and a former Texas judge. But having said that he’s qualified, I don’t know if he’d have an easy way through,” Reid said in Las Vegas.

Some of the harshest criticism of Gonzales has come from the right, not from Democrats, and Reid chided conservatives for that. “I think it’s too bad the president has to respond in Denmark about statements from the far right,” he said.

Bush calls for calm
Bush urged senators to ignore the heated rhetoric from both sides and engage in a civil discussion during confirmation hearings on whomever he nominates to replace O’Connor, who often was the crucial swing vote on the closely divided court.

The Republican president’s choice could shape the court for years to come — a fact not lost on liberal and conservative groups gearing up multimillion-dollar campaigns to support or oppose the nominee.

“I hope the United States Senate conducts themselves in a way that brings dignity to the process, and that the senators don’t listen to the special interest groups, particularly those on the extremes that are trying to exploit this opportunity for not only their — what they may think is right, but also for their own fundraising capabilities,” Bush said.

During his trans-Atlantic flight Tuesday, Bush went over dossiers of more than a half dozen prospective nominees. He said he wanted a new justice in place when the court’s term begins in October.

Bush picks guide for nominee
Moving forward on the process, the president asked former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., to help shepherd his nominee through the Senate. Thompson, 62, an actor on the NBC television series “Law & Order,” retired from the Senate in 2002.

Former US Senator Thompson
Alex Wong  /  Meet the Press file
President Bush has asked former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson to help shepherd his nominee through the Senate.
Reflecting the politically charged atmosphere, that decision drew criticism from the Democratic National Committee, which said “blurring the line between fact and fiction is nothing new for our Republican colleagues” and a solid nominee wouldn’t need the help of an “actor and high-paid lobbyist.”

At his news conference, Bush reiterated his campaign pledge that there would be no litmus test on issues such as abortion for his nominee.

“I’ll pick people who, one, can do the job, people who are honest, people who are bright, and people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate from,” he said.

For some, abortion is paramount
Several conservatives argue, however, that Gonzales’ record on abortion is a strike against him. Abortion, said Cathie Adams of the Dallas-based Texas Eagle Forum, is the “watershed issue for pro-family conservatives.”

In March 2000, Gonzales, then a Texas Supreme Court judge appointed by Bush, joined the majority in ruling that a 17-year-old girl could seek an abortion without telling her parents.

Gonzales also upset abortion foes during his confirmation hearing for attorney general when he described the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion as the “law of the land” and promised to enforce it.

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