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Battle for the Bench

Who is John Roberts (search), the president's choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor (search) on the Supreme Court? Two images will be presented of this D.C. Appeals Court judge.

One is the image the president unveiled at the announcement of his nomination Tuesday night: A family man, a conservative, but not a stereotypical foaming at the mouth typ, and one who believes that the Constitution (search) says what it means and not what justices say it means.

Liberals will portray Roberts as one who wants to take America back to the Dark Ages with abortions performed by drunken doctors whose licenses have been revoked and who use rusty coat hangers in back alleys. If you think that too extreme, recall the way Ted Kennedy recreated Robert Bork in that image.

There are some liberals who would never vote for Roberts and some conservatives who would never vote against him. That leaves the usual mushy middle: The Olympia Snowes and Lincoln Chafees on the GOP side and the Joseph Liebermans on the Democrat side.

Millions of dollars have been raised by various interest groups on both sides to create their own image of John Roberts before the Senate Judiciary hearings open, probably sometime next month.

The heat of a Washington August will be nothing compared to the heat generated over this nomination. It will either give the court a one vote conservative majority or it will allow the liberal minority to continue to rule.

President Bush's legacy is riding on this pick and possibly another if Chief Justice Rehnquist eventually retires. And that legacy could last for at least three decades.

Let's hope he has chosen well..

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Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.