Michael W. McConnell, a judge on the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is a favorite of religious and social conservatives. He sees government aid to religious schools as constitutional and supports the rights of student prayer clubs.

McConnell, a University of Chicago Law School graduate, has argued in favor of allowing the Boy Scouts of America to exclude gays, and he once wrote that the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling was "an embarrassment to those who take constitutional law seriously" -- but later softened that stand.

The mild-mannered judge from Utah, who skis and hikes, has drawn strong criticism from Democrats for his views. But his defenders say he is not an ideologue and that his stances are nuanced and not easy to pigeonhole.

During his appellate court confirmation hearing in 2002, he told senators that a constitutional amendment banning abortion "is not going to happen." He opposes a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and is against mandatory school prayer. McConnell also criticized the reasoning behind the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision that handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

McConnell, 50, was born in Louisville. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and held positions as a government lawyer and law professor before Bush nominated him to the court of appeals in September 2001.

-- Eric Pianin