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Mrs. Kerry: Court Picks Would Protect Rights

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) would appoint Supreme Court justices who would safeguard a half-century of civil rights gains, his wife said Friday.

"Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, we are reminded now more than ever that we need a Supreme Court to protect our hard-won victories," Teresa Heinz Kerry (search) told the Pennsylvania State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search).

"John Kerry will appoint judges that interpret our Constitution and don't go there for political reasons to divide our country," she added during a 20-minute prepared speech.

The NAACP had invited President Bush to speak at the conference as well, but he declined and did not send a surrogate, while Kerry sent his wife, said Burrell Brown, president of the state conference.

Responding to Heinz Kerry's comments, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Heather Layman said Bush has vowed to appoint judges who would closely follow the Constitution, rather than "legislate from the bench."

Heinz Kerry focused on civil rights, education and disenfranchisement of black voters in the 2000 election during a speech aimed at strengthening her husband's prospects for winning Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes in a neck-and-neck national race against Bush.

The stakes are particularly high in Pennsylvania, which her first husband, Republican Sen. John Heinz III, represented until his death in 1991. Democrat Al Gore carried the state in 2000; recent polls give Kerry a slight lead this year.