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Special Report

Transcript: Dan Bartlett on Picking a Justice

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," July 3, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: With Washington buzzing over the president's impending nomination of a successor to Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court, the question is whether President Bush will try by his choice to reshape the court or reach instead for someone who could be confirmed without a fight.

For answers to that question, we hope, we turn to presidential counselor Dan Bartlett who joins me here.

Welcome. Nice to have you.

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Brit.

HUME: First of all, he was pretty quick, was the president, to come to the defense of Alberto Gonzales, his friend and his attorney general. Does that tell us something about the president's relationship with Mr. Gonzales, or does it tell us anything, as well, perhaps, about his thoughts for Mr. Gonzales' future?

BARTLETT: Well, I think it's a natural, human reaction for a person who serves in your cabinet as attorney general of the United States of America, as well as a good, close, personal friend for over a decade now, that his first reaction's going to be to defend him, because he's worth defending.

He's a fine man, strong character, is serving our country well. But I'm not here today to speculate about who's somebody President Bush is considering or not, but he is a member of our cabinet, somebody that President Bush holds in high esteem.

He is serving his country well. He served his state of Texas well. And I think, if given a choice again, President Bush would do just the same, and that's defend his good friend, Al Gonzales.

HUME: Will Mr. Gonzales be involved in helping the president select a nominee?

BARTLETT: As attorney general, he is a part of that process. The Justice Department, and obviously as the leader of the Justice Department, will participate in consultations with the president in helping pull together material. And as far as speculation about him, President Bush, if he so chooses to consider him, has plenty of information, if he needs to do that.

HUME: Does he regard Alberto Gonzales as a true judicial conservative?

BARTLETT: Well, he's a member of the president's team. And President Bush has put forward a philosophy of governing, a philosophy of appointments, both as governor of Texas as well as president of the United States, and he'll let that record speak for itself.

Again, I don't want to get into the business of speculating whether he's on a list or not on a list, but he's a proud member of this president's team, a member of the cabinet and serving this country quite well.

HUME: And therefore considered by the president to be a judicial conservative?

BARTLETT: Well, he definitely believes, as all members of the president's cabinet, reflect the views in the governing style of this president.

HUME: On this question of consultation, we hear now from Democrats and perhaps from some others, as well, that the president should be consulting and soliciting the advice in advance of his selection of members of Congress of both parties as to what kind of choice he should make. How does he view that?

BARTLETT: Well, President Bush on Friday did say that he was going to consult with members of the United States Senate, the leadership. He will meet with Leader Frist and Harry Reid, as well as the chairman and ranking of the Judiciary Committee.

Members of the staff have already began meeting with and consulting with members of the Judiciary Committee and other members of both political parties. And we go in with a blank slate, say, "Tell us your views. If you have names, give your names."

President Bush wants to know exactly what's on their mind. And this is really an opportunity for the United States Senate to rise above the partisan rancor of the past and for, really, for the Senate to use the Ginsburg model.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a situation in which Republicans set aside deep political differences with her and voted because she was qualified for the bench. She was a former member — general counsel for the ACLU. So obviously, there was a political and philosophical difference that many Republicans had with her, but she received over 90 votes. And we think that's the standard and the precedent that could guide us for this process going forward.

HUME: We have got a sense — can you give us a sense of how long the president plans to take with this choice?

BARTLETT: Well, as he said, he is going to do consult. He's also said that he's going to do interviews himself of prospective nominees. I can't tell you how many he will want to interview, but he'll do that himself.

He returns on Friday. So there'll be some time after that. The backstop we're working off of, Brit, is October. That is when the Supreme Court goes back into session.

And as Jim angle reported in your broadcast at the top of the news, the average time is about 72 days. We're well within those confines. We will consult with the Congress or with the Senate on their hearing schedule, whether they need to do that in August or September, to give them enough time to deliberate and come to a conclusion and then have a vote.

But we think there's plenty of time. The president's going to take as much time as he needs, but still meet that time period.

HUME: There is a view your hearing now that, because Justice O'Connor emerged over time as a kind of centrist on the court and a swing vote, that the president is under an obligation therefore to find appoint someone who would fill those shoes. And that for him to nominate someone who is a certified judicial conservative would not be in keeping with that. What is the president's view of that?

BARTLETT: Well, I would say, on two different points, that's kind of a standard that's being created out of thin air. First, if you look at the fact that nobody knew her views on the big issues of the day when she was put on the court — and President Bush believes you shouldn't have a litmus test, because these potential nominees will then have to potentially consider cases on those particular matters.

Secondly, I would say, is that, if you look at past precedent, that hasn't been the case, either. Clarence Thomas, you know, when he got on the court, he wasn't replacing ideologically the same exact person. And that is a standard that's being created.

HUME: And nor was Ginsburg, for that matter.

BARTLETT: That's exactly right. So we believe the most recent standard is to say, "Let's look at the qualifications. Does this person have the character and the integrity, the judicial background or legal scholarship that you would want in a justice? What is the philosophical approach?"

And what we find is that they can set aside political differences and vote on qualifications, and that ought to be the standard going forward.

HUME: Dan Bartlett, good to have you. Thanks for coming.

BARTLETT: Thanks for having me, Brit.

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