Bush Chooses Roberts for Court

President Bush and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John G. Roberts Jr. walk past a portrait of President Ronald Reagan on their way to the announcement of Roberts's nomination.
President Bush and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John G. Roberts Jr. walk past a portrait of President Ronald Reagan on their way to the announcement of Roberts's nomination. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)

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By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

President Bush nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court last night, passing over several female candidates to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in favor of a well-regarded litigator with conservative credentials and friends in both parties.

Bush introduced his choice for the nation's 109th justice in a prime-time East Room ceremony broadcast live on national television after a dramatic day of shifting speculation that captivated Washington. The president hailed Roberts as an impressive legal figure who would interpret the Constitution and laws rather than legislate from the bench.

"John Roberts has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice and is widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and his personal decency," Bush said, with Roberts at his side. The president added, "He is a man of extraordinary accomplishment and ability. He has a good heart. He has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness and civility."

Liberal advocacy groups immediately assailed Roberts for his positions on abortion and other issues. Before the announcement, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) ordered his fellow Democratic lawmakers to offer a more measured response to whomever Bush chose to avoid appearing knee-jerk negative, aides said. But Democrats expect to eventually wage a fight.

"The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry," Reid said in a statement. "The Senate must review Judge Roberts's record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness."

Roberts, 50, a resident of Chevy Chase, clerked for William H. Rehnquist when the chief justice was still an associate justice and worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was appointed by the current president to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit two years ago and confirmed by the Senate on a unanimous voice vote. But Roberts made his mark in Washington as one of the most successful advocates before the same high court he would now join.

As a successor to O'Connor, a centrist-conservative who cast the swing vote for years, Roberts is expected to move the court further to the right, but legal experts do not consider him among the most ideological of the candidates Bush considered. Often described as steady and even-tempered, Roberts has accumulated a slim record as a judge but has a longer paper trail as a lawyer for the government and in private practice. That paper trail will surely become fodder for debate in the coming weeks.

Critics have already called attention to his writings on abortion. As deputy solicitor general in the George H.W. Bush administration, Roberts signed a brief on abortion financing that argued in a footnote that Roe v. Wade , which established a constitutional right to abortion, should be overturned because it "finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution."

Some allies and analysts cautioned against reading too much into that because Roberts was reflecting Bush administration policy at the time. At his confirmation hearing for the appellate bench in 2003, he offered a careful answer to the abortion question that likewise was open to interpretation. " Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land," he testified, adding: "There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

Bush picked Roberts after interviewing five finalists Thursday, Friday and Saturday alongside White House counsel Harriet Miers, according to aides. Roberts, who has been teaching international trade law in London, secretly flew back to Washington to meet with the president in the executive mansion's residence for an hour on Friday. Bush spent much of the weekend consulting with his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and then "essentially" decided Monday night, aides said.

The White House that night called Roberts, who had returned to London for a class, and told him to fly immediately back to Washington without telling him whether he had the nomination. Bush telephoned Roberts at 12:35 p.m. yesterday to offer him the nomination, the aides said. "I just offered the job to a great, smart 50-year-old lawyer," the president told aides afterward. The judge and his family then joined Bush at the White House for dinner.

In selecting Roberts, Bush passed up the opportunity to name his friend and attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, as the first Hispanic on the court, after conservatives attacked him for being too moderate. And Bush chose not to take the advice of first lady Laura Bush, who publicly suggested that O'Connor, the nation's first female justice, be succeeded by another woman.


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