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Supreme Court Choice

July 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Twelve hours after he was nominated to the Supreme Court, 50-year-old federal appeals court judge John Roberts had breakfast with President Bush, who prepared him for a day on Capitol Hill.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Judge Roberts is off to the Senate this morning to begin his consultations. In my conversations with senators last night, we discussed how important it is that Judge Roberts get a fair hearing, a timely hearing and a hearing that will bring great credit to our nation and to the United States Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Roberts, who worked for both President Reagan and the first President Bush, later launched a successful private law career during which he argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court.

But Roberts still is a new face to most senators who’ll ultimately decide his nomination. So he arrived at the Capitol with a full day of greetings and meetings ahead of him.

Meanwhile, the Senate floor already was abuzz with talk about the nominee.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: It is important to know where Judge Roberts stands on this great question of opportunity and justice for all.

SPOKESPERSON: To sit on the Supreme Court, you look for a John Roberts.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democratic leader Harry Reid said Roberts’ impressive resume did not make him a shoo-in for the nation’s highest court.

SEN. HARRY REID: While these are important qualities, they don’t automatically qualify John Roberts to serve on the highest court in the land. Nor does the fact that he is confirmed to serve in the court of appeals mean that he’s entitled to be automatically promoted. The standard for confirmation for the Supreme Court is very high.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Bill Frist, who promised to move Roberts’ confirmation through quickly, called for all parties to work together.

SEN. BILL FRIST: I hope this process is marked by cooperation and not confrontation, and by steady progress and not delay and obstruction. This morning with less than 12 hours after the president’s announcement, some extreme special interest groups are mobilizing to oppose Judge Roberts.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, even as Frist was speaking, several abortion rights organizations were just off the Capitol grounds, voicing their opposition to the new nominee.

Kim Gandy heads the National Organization for Women.

KIM GANDY: If you care about basic civil and human rights, we cannot have a partisan ideologue like John G. Roberts replacing Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

KWAME HOLMAN: Back inside the Capitol, Texas Republican John Cornyn hoped interest groups would not play a significant role in the upcoming debate.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: I can only hope that we will not, in this body, the 100 senators who work here and represent our constituents, be tempted by the outside interest groups to engage in the same sort of irresponsible rhetoric that is used by too many of them. Let’s behave as senators. Let us do our human best to uphold the dignity of this great body.

KWAME HOLMAN: The first stop for Judge Roberts was an appearance with Senate Republican leaders, and he thanked them for their early support.

JOHN ROBERTS: I appreciate and respect the constitutional role of the Senate in the appointment process, and I am very grateful to the senators for accommodating me and having me over here today.

KWAME HOLMAN: Roberts later met behind closed doors with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, perhaps the most important senator because he will set the terms of the confirmation hearings.

Specter earlier described how he would approach the hearings, expected in early September.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I want to give confidence to people with diverse views that I intend to do my utmost to conduct the hearings in a fair and impartial way right down the middle, and that I don’t come to the hearings with any preconceptions or any judgments already formulated.

KWAME HOLMAN: The so-called “Gang of 14″ senators also could play a key role in deciding Roberts’ nomination. They are the bipartisan group that last spring agreed to permit a filibuster of a judicial nomination only in “extraordinary circumstances.” And today, Arizona Republican John McCain said the Roberts choice hardly meets that criterion.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I am convinced that even though various members of the Senate on the other side of the aisle may oppose and vote against Justice Roberts’s nomination, and perhaps with well founded reasons, that by no mean by any stretch of the imagination, would Justice Roberts, because of his credentials, because of his service, because of his extraordinary qualifications would meet the extraordinary circumstances of criteria.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, Democratic leader Harry Reid got his meeting with Judge Roberts.

SEN. HARRY REID: Judge, welcome to the Democratic side of the United States Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: While Reid’s deputy, Illinois’ Dick Durbin, said on the Senate floor that many questions need to be asked before a lifetime appointment to the court is granted.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: He may be there 25 or 30 years. We have one chance, only one, to ask questions of him, to ask what is in his heart, what are his values. Does he really reflect the mainstream of America?

KWAME HOLMAN: In the days and weeks ahead, senators can expect the voices from interest groups to grow louder, each with its own reasons why John Roberts should or should not be given a seat on the high court.