From a distinguished legal pedigree to a belief in strict interpretation of the Constitution to summers working in a steel mill, President Bush on Saturday reviewed the reasons he chose federal appellate judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court.
Although Roberts’ Senate confirmation hearings won’t begin for six weeks or so, Bush is leaving nothing to chance with his first high-court nominee. He reinforced that in his weekly radio address.
On Wednesday, the day after announcing Roberts’ selection, Bush promised to “provide all the support that’s necessary” to win his confirmation.
Fulfilling that vow has taken its most public form in daily statements from Bush, with a prominent section in every speech he has delivered this week devoted to urging senators to hold a dignified and fair debate on Roberts and to confirm him before the high court reconvenes Oct. 3.
“He is known by Democrats and Republicans alike as a brilliant thinker, a fair-minded judge and a decent man,” Bush said in his broadcast. “America is fortunate to have a man of such wisdom and intellectual strength willing to serve our country.”
Roberts has spent the past three days paying courtesy calls on members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, part of the traditional pre-hearing process aimed at smoothing the path for high-profile nominees.
Along the way, he has picked up compliments from Republicans, caution from Democrats and nary a hint yet of plans for an all-out battle over his nomination.
“The process is off to a good start,” Bush said. “In the weeks ahead, the Senate will have an opportunity to rise above partisanship.”
Abortion in spotlight
In the early analysis, abortion has emerged as the key issue in Roberts’ nomination from both the right and the left.
He would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has frequently been a swing vote on abortion.
Abortion rights groups point to a legal brief Roberts helped write for a Supreme Court case while serving as deputy solicitor general in the administration of the first President Bush as cause for concern.
The brief argued that the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion “was wrongly decided and should be overruled.”
In his defense, Roberts told the Judiciary Committee during his 2003 confirmation hearing for the seat he now holds on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: “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.”
Still, so far, anti-abortion groups appear to be supporting Roberts despite a lack of any statement of his personal views on the subject.
Calls for answers
On Friday, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, urged Roberts to be more forthright in answering lawmakers’ questions than he was in 2003. Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, said he voted against Roberts in committee then partly because he didn’t feel the nominee fully answered senators.
“If he is open and honest, I think it will go a long way,” Durbin said after meeting with Roberts.
There was upbeat Republican talk after Roberts’ meetings with Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
No dates have been set for the Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, but they are expected to be held in late August or early September.