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Bush nominates Roberts to Supreme Court

Republicans praise nominee as Dems vow thorough review

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President Bush called John Roberts "one of the best legal minds of his generation."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday chose as his first Supreme Court nominee U.S. Circuit Judge John Roberts Jr., a conservative whose selection pleased Republicans and prompted Democrats to vow a thorough review in the Senate.

If confirmed by the Senate, Roberts would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who gained a reputation as a moderate swing voter in her 24 terms on the nation's highest court.

Bush called the selection of a nominee to the high court "one of the most consequential decisions a president makes."

Bush's announcement, televised nationally in prime time Tuesday from the White House, ended nearly three weeks of fervent speculation about who would take O'Connor's pivotal place on the court.

A senior administration official told CNN that Bush interviewed Roberts Friday at the White House and made his final decision Tuesday morning. He called Roberts about 12:30 p.m. to offer him the appointment.

With Roberts standing at his side, Bush said the nominee "has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice and is widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and personal decency." (Transcript)

In a brief statement, Roberts said, "It is both an honor and very humbling to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court."

Roberts, 50, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered the most influential federal panel outside of the Supreme Court, took the bench in 2003 after his confirmation was held up two years by Senate Democrats.

He was nominated to the same court in 1992 by the president's father, President George H.W. Bush, but his nomination did not come up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate before the White House changed hands in January 1993.

A veteran appellate attorney, Roberts has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, both in private practice and as deputy solicitor general during the elder Bush's administration.

"That experience left me with a profound appreciation for the role of the court in our constitutional democracy," Roberts said.

A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he clerked in 1980 and 1981 for Justice William Rehnquist before the latter was elevated to chief justice.

He also served in the Reagan administration, first as special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith and then as an associate White House counsel.

During the dispute over the 2000 presidential election, Roberts was part of a team of Republican lawyers and former Supreme Court law clerks who assisted the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ready for a fight

The first Supreme Court nomination in nearly 11 years mobilized advocacy groups of all stripes, and early reaction indicated a possible partisan fight. (Full story)

The conservative group Progress for America rallied in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington Tuesday night, carrying signs reading "Confirm."

A liberal advocacy group, People for the American Way, was already trying to rally its forces, sending out 400,000 e-mails to supporters after the announcement, according to the group's president, Ralph Neas.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate minority leader, said he would not "pre-judge this nomination."

"The Senate must review Judge Roberts' record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Roberts "an exceptional judge, brilliant legal mind and a man of outstanding character."

A prominent liberal advocacy group -- NARAL Pro-Choice America -- opposed Roberts' second nomination to the appeals court, saying he has worked to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that struck down state laws outlawing abortion. (Full story)

Arguing a case for the first Bush administration in 1990 when he was deputy solicitor general, Roberts said Roe v. Wade "was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

In his 2003 confirmation hearing, however, he told senators he was acting as an advocate for his client, rather than presenting his own positions.

He told senators Roe was "the settled law of the land" and said "there's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

Roberts, a native of Buffalo, New York, who now lives in Maryland, is married and has two children. He is a Roman Catholic.

The nominee and his wife, Jane, came to the White House Tuesday evening to have dinner with the Bushes before the announcement, the senior administration official said.

Leahy vows fair hearing

O'Connor, 75, announced her retirement July 1 and will formally step down when her successor is sworn in. Nominated by President Reagan, she was the first woman appointed to the court and took her seat on September 25, 1981.

The vacancy is the first since 1994, when President Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer.

President Bush said he and his staff consulted with 70 senators on the nomination process.

"I received good advice from both Republicans and Democrats," he said.

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney met July 12 with four senators with key roles in the confirmation process: Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee; Reid; Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee; and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

"These senators share my goal of a dignified confirmation process that is conducted with fairness and civility," Bush said.

"It is important that the newest justice be on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes in October."

Giving the Democratic response to Bush's pick, Leahy called for "the cooperation of the nominee and the administration" in the confirmation process.

He promised to give Roberts a fair hearing -- but also said he would not get a "rubber stamp."

"We need to consider this nomination as thoroughly and carefully as the American people deserve," Leahy said. "No one is entitled to a free pass to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court."

Roberts is expected to meet with members of the Judiciary Committee next week before Congress takes a month off. Confirmation hearings likely will begin after Labor Day.

Rehnquist, who has been battling thyroid cancer, announced Thursday he has no plans to step down. (Full story)

Speculation about O'Connor's replacement focused much of Tuesday on another woman: U.S. Circuit Court Judge Edith Clement. (Other candidates)

CNN's John King, Suzanne Malveaux, Steve Turnham and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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