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Bush Opens Drive for Court Nominee
Confirmation Hearings Set for September

By David S. Broder and Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 25, 1990

The White House launched the confirmation drive for President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee yesterday against a virtually invisible opposition and amid signs that David H. Souter will resist efforts to pin down his views on abortion.

Souter, the little-known, 50-year-old New Hampshire jurist named by Bush Monday to replace retiring Justice William J. Brennan Jr., continued to draw approving comments across the political spectrum.

"I think there's a positive feeling," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings in September.

President Bush told a GOP fund-raising luncheon in Philadelphia "there should be no litmus test in the process of confirmation," reiterating his statement that he had applied no such standard himself on abortion or any issue.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Bush is moving quickly on the nomination because "we saw that some of the special interests -- on abortion, civil rights -- were going to try to cook up a stew that this nomination would get dumped into."

Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), a close friend of the nominee, said the former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice had made it clear to administration officials that "if they had any litmus tests to apply, he was not interested" in the appointment he received from Bush earlier this year to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston or in being elevated to the Supreme Court.

"He will take that same stance with senators," Rudman said. "He has far too much respect for the independence and integrity of the judiciary to allow that to happen."

Bush made the same point, arguing that the court needed justices with "independent minds . . . above the flames of political passion."

The first Judiciary Committee member to indicate publicly an intent to press Souter on the abortion issue was Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a strong opponent of abortion. "I don't have to be circumspect," he said, "but he may."

Grassley added that "at this point, it looks like it {confirmation} will go very smoothly," a judgment that was echoed at the liberal end of the political spectrum by another Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).

"The waters are quiet," Metzenbaum said. "He's got a clean slate so far. But that doesn't mean something won't come up tomorrow morning."

Liberal interest groups said last night that their first look at Souter's judicial record had yielded no ammunition for a fight against him. Initial review of the more than 200 opinions Souter wrote during his seven years on the state supreme court reflected a jurist who focused more often on the mundane and technical issues of a state court than on sweeping constiutional questions.

Administration officials expressed confidence that Bush had found what he wanted -- a conservative judge with no written opinions, especially on abortion issues, that would fuel ideological conflict on the eve of the midterm election.

"I don't think it will be a hard sell at all, when you look at the man's record, experience, integrity and ability to deal with tough questions of law," Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."

Souter began preparing for the confirmation process by meeting with White House officials and Kenneth Duberstein, former White House chief of staff in the Reagan administration, who will shepherd him through the hearings.

Rudman, who hired Souter as a young lawyer when Rudman was New Hampshire attorney general, said he would escort the nominee personally to meetings with Senate leaders today and with Judiciary Committee members tomorrow. "I know him better than anyone else," he said, "and I'm going to do the honors myself."

At a brief photo session yesterday afternoon in Rudman's office, Souter confessed that "I really was in some state of shock" when he stood at Bush's side for the announcement Monday. "I was astonished." But White House officials said Souter was a strong contender from the beginning, having impressed Thornburgh and others with his intellectual qualities when he was being interviewed for the circuit court.

Barring a surprise discovery about Souter, most senators who ventured a judgment yesterday said he should be easily confirmed. Rather than question his qualifications, they fell to debating the propriety of asking him about abortion and other sensitive issues.

Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said, "I think it would be appalling to spend too much time, if any at all, on abortion," when the hearings begin.

But Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), another Judiciary Committee member, said, "He doesn't look contentious to me . . . but it's unrealistic to think he will not be asked about abortion, flag burning, the line-item veto and a lot of other issues. But I don't expect him to give us any clear-cut answers."

One of the few negative notes was sounded by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) who said he would have preferred if Souter, a lifelong bachelor, were a family man. But Hatch quickly backed away from the statement. "It came out wrong," Hatch said. "I did not mean that as criticism."

Staff writer Dan Balz, traveling with President Bush, contributed to this report.

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