Bush Names Roberts to Supreme Court; Appeals Judge Will Apply Law 'Strictly'

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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.

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," the Nevada Democrat said. But "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. …