WASHINGTON (BP)–In a choice praised by social conservatives, President Bush July 19 nominated John G. Roberts to be the nation’s next Supreme Court justice, saying the 50-year-old is “one of the best legal minds of his generation” and someone who would “not legislate from the bench.”
“One of the most consequential decisions a president makes is his appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court,” Bush said. “… [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. I have found such a person in Judge John Roberts.”
Bush asked for a “dignified confirmation process” in the Senate and said he hoped to see Roberts on the court when it reconvenes in October. He also said he had consulted with more than 70 senators — a topic that received much attention during the debate over judicial filibusters earlier this year.
Roberts, who is Catholic, called his nomination “very humbling.”
“I am very grateful for the confidence [Bush] has shown in nominating me, and I look forward to the next step in the process before the United States Senate,” he said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Roberts — who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — would replace Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice. Conservatives hope Roberts will tilt the court to the right and issue favorable rulings on a host of cultural issues, including abortion and the public display of the Ten Commandments. The court eventually could weigh in on “gay marriage.”
O’Connor was a swing vote on several hot-button issues but disappointed conservatives multiple times, including her vote in a 5-4 decision to overturn Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion ban.
“President Bush promised in 2000 and again in 2004 that he would only nominate strict-constructionist, original-intent judges and justices in the Scalia-Thomas mold,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in reference to two of the court’s most conservative justices.
“I have found the president in the 17 years I have known him personally to be a man of integrity and a man of his word. I will trust the president until I have compelling evidence to the contrary. The nomination of Judge Roberts has certainly not given me any reason at present to believe that the president has done anything other than to fulfill his campaign promises. Justice-nominee Roberts gives every indication of being the kind of judge that will be a neutral judicial umpire, calling them the way the Constitution sees them, not seeking to ‘fix’ the game by tilting judicial decisions toward those who do not offend his personal sense of right and wrong.”
Many conservative Christian groups issued statement supporting Roberts, including Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice. For the most part, liberal interest groups — including abortion rights and homosexual activist organizations — issued statements either opposing Roberts or expressing concern.
Roberts has served on the D.C. Circuit since 2003. From 1993 to 2003 he served as an attorney at the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson, and prior to that he worked as deputy solicitor general under the first President Bush. He argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court.
Abortion will be at the heart of the confirmation fight, and a legal brief he wrote for an abortion case during the first Bush administration is certain to draw interest. In it he argued that “we continue to believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.” Whether that was his personal view or only the view of the administration at the time remains to be seen. In addition, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is a former executive vice president of Feminists for Life, a pro-life organization.
During his confirmation hearings in 2003, Roberts said as an appeals court judge he would follow Supreme Court precedent: “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. … There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.”
The latter quote, though, isn’t appeasing abortion rights groups, who fear that once Roberts is on the high court and is not bound by precedent, he will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Even before Bush spoke July 19, two of the nation’s most prominent abortion rights organizations, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Organization for Women, were urging their members to oppose Roberts. Under a headline screaming, “Tell your senators to oppose anti-choice Roberts!” NARAL had a form letter that could be forwarded to senators.
Joe Solmonese, president of the homosexual group Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement saying Roberts’ nomination places the “right to privacy and the future of a fair-minded Court … in grave danger.”
Conservatives, though, were pleased. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Christian legal group American Center for Law and Justice, applauded the pick.
“Judge Roberts is an exceptional choice who will bring sound legal reasoning to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Sekulow said in a statement. “… In my dealings with Judge Roberts over the years, I have found him to be a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ exhibiting uncommon insight and judgment. A man of character, Judge Roberts understands the Constitution and has a record of applying the law — not legislating from the bench. He is extremely well suited and well qualified to serve this country on the nation’s highest court. We call on the Senate to begin the confirmation process and move swiftly to conduct fair hearings and to confirm this exceptional nominee.”
Roberts also served as a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist and as an associate counsel to President Reagan. However, contrary to what was widely reported, he is not a member of the Federalist Society, a legal organization of conservatives and libertarians, although he has spoken to the group, The Washington Post reported July 21.
Although some liberal groups are hoping for a filibuster, it is not known whether Senate Democrats will mount one. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the verdict on Roberts is still out.
“Ever since Justice O’Connor announced her retirement I have called on the president to choose a nominee who can unite the country, not divide it,” Reid said. “It remains to be seen whether John Roberts fits that description. I hope that he does, and I look forward to giving him the opportunity to make his case to the American people.”
Focus on the Family Action’s James Dobson applauded Bush for “keeping his promise to the American people by selecting such an impartial, accomplished jurist to fill this crucial seat on the high court.”
“We trust that, in light of these rock-solid credentials, the U.S. Senate will work together over the next several weeks to ensure Judge Roberts gets the up-or-down confirmation vote he is entitled to under the Constitution.” Dobson said in a statement.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., host of the Albert Mohler radio program and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Roberts one of the “most respected and well established attorneys in the nation” and said he had a “stellar” record of public service. But Mohler added that given the importance of the position on the court, opposition from liberal groups is “almost inevitable.”
Bush said Roberts has bi-partisan support from both Democratic and Republican attorneys. He noted that during Roberts’ confirmation hearings to the appeals court, a former counsel to President Clinton supported him.
“He has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness, and civility,” Bush said. “He has profound respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen. He will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench.”