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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

President Chooses Conservative Judge as Nominee to Court - New York Times

President Chooses Conservative Judge as Nominee to Court - New York TimesPresident Chooses Conservative Judge as Nominee to Court

WASHINGTON, July 19 - President Bush is nominating John G. Roberts Jr., a conservative federal appellate judge from Washington, D.C., to the first vacancy on the Supreme Court in 11 years.

President Bush was to announce the selection of Judge Roberts, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on television at 9 p.m. But news of the selection leaked out in advance of the White House ceremony.

News of Judge Roberts's selection came at the end of a day of whirlwind speculation that, for several hours, had put Judge Edith Brown Clement of the federal appeals court in New Orleans, then Judge J. Michael Luttig of the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., at or near the top of the list of candidates.

Judge Roberts, 50, once clerked for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist when the chief was an associate justice and is viewed as one of the more accomplished lawyers to argue before the Supreme Court, having won more than two dozen cases before becoming a judge.

The judge has been on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since May 2003. That court has often been a springboard for the Supreme Court; indeed, three current members of the high court, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were once on the D.C. Circuit.

Mr. Bush had playfully deflected questions earlier in the day about whom he might choose, telling reporters as he has many times before that he would pick a jurist "who will not legislate from the bench."

If confirmed, Judge Roberts might tilt the balance of the court rightward. Justice O'Connor, who has been on the tribunal for 24 years and was the first woman on the Supreme Court, was widely regarded as a swing justice between the liberal and conservative blocs.

The nominee will now undergo a background investigation. Then his nomination will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has said he wants to schedule hearings by late August or September.

If recent history is a guide, the nominee will be questioned extensively about his views on divisive social issues, especially abortion. Republicans have a 10-to-8 advantage on the Judiciary Committee, and they have 55 seats in the Senate, so chances for confirmation would appear to be good - unless the nominee's views arouse enough opposition to inspire a Democratic filibuster.

Nor can opposition from conservatives be entirely ruled out. While Judge Roberts is viewed as a conservative, has yet to rule on any major abortion case. Consequently, some conservatives have worried that he could be "another Souter."

Justice David H. Souter, installed on the Supreme Court in 1990 by the first President Bush, has been more liberal than some conservatives had expected, to their great consternation. Many conservatives have never shed their bitterness from the Senate's 1987 rejection of Judge Robert H. Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court.

While it can be dicey to speculate on how the confirmation debate will unfold, it will not be surprising if some people in and out of Washington express disappointment that the president did not choose another woman to replace Justice O'Connor, or perhaps use the vacancy to nominate the first Hispanic justice.

Judge Roberts was born in Buffalo and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. He was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. He was a clerk for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1980 and 1981 before working for Justice Rehnquist.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush had been coy about when he might announce his choice.

"I'm comfortable with where we are in the process," Mr. Bush said at a news conference, adding that he has been interviewing candidates "from different walks of life," some of whom he knows well and others with whom he is less familiar.

Republicans close to the White House said in recent days that a leading candidate for the position was Judge Clement of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans. The president declined to answer directly when asked whether he thought it important to select a woman to replace the retiring Justice O'Connor.

Groping momentarily for words, Mr. Bush said he was trying for a reply "that sounds profound to you without actually answering your question." Turning more serious, he reiterated his position that he wants a jurist "who will not legislate from the bench."

"I'll let you know when I'm ready to tell you about it," the president said at a question-and-answer session with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia.

Administration officials said on Monday that that the selection process was moving far faster than they had expected. They also said that Mr. Bush's remarks on Monday morning in an East Room news conference, in which the president suggested that he would take more time to interview candidates, did not rule out a quick announcement.

A Republican with close ties to the administration said that Judge Clement was interviewed as a potential nominee at the White House about a month ago, when the administration was preparing for the possible retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Since then, Justice O'Connor has announced that she will step down while Chief Justice Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, has said that he will remain on the job as long as his health permits.

David Stout contributed reporting for this article.

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