WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney assured a conservative lawyers' group on Friday that the Republican loss of Congress would not dissuade President Bush from nominating more judges who believe in interpreting rather than making law.
"Throughout our time in office, the president has selected judges who understand their role in the constitutional system," Cheney told the Federalist Society.
"And I assure you, nothing that's happened in the last two weeks will change his commitment to nominating first-rate talent like John Roberts and Sam Alito," Cheney said, referring to the two members of the Supreme Court named by Bush.
Cheney quoted Chief Justice Roberts as saying that judges are to be "servants of the law, not the other way around. "
Cheney received a standing ovation from the group as he took the podium. "A warm welcome like that is almost enough to make a guy run for office again. Almost, almost," said Cheney, who has repeatedly said he has no plans to seek the presidency in 2008.
Despite vows of bipartisan harmony, Bush earlier this week resubmitted six judicial nominees that Senate Democrats had said they'd fight as too conservative for the federal bench.
Judges "have a duty to pursue no agenda or platform — and to leave politics to those who run for office and answer to the people," Cheney said.
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies was founded in 1982 as a debating society by students who believed professors at the top law schools were too liberal. It now claims 35,000 members, including prominent members of the Bush administration, the federal judiciary and Congress.
"I appreciate the contribution you've made to the debate on vital questions of policy," Cheney told the convention. "The Federalist Society stands firm for the principle that courts exist to exercise not the will of men but the judgment of law."
Cheney noted that one of Bush's most recent nominees — Peter Keisler as a federal circuit court judge for the District of Columbia — was a founding member of the organization "and we look forward to his confirmation."
Bush said that the war in Iraq and the broader battle against terrorists would go on. "We'll win this war by staying on the offensive carrying the fight to the enemy, going after them one by one if necessary, going after those who could equip them with ever-more-dangerous technologies," he said.
In particular, Cheney praised Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose resignation Bush announced the day after the midterm elections. Cheney said Rumsfeld had a "steady hand" and called him "one of the great public servants of the age."
"Some in our country may believe in good faith that retreating from Iraq would make America safer. Recent experience teaches the opposite lesson," Cheney said.
Cheney also slammed a Michigan federal judge's decision in August that struck down Bush's warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.
He said that he was confident the decision would be overturned on appeal because the program "rests on firm legal ground."
As to the court's claim that it violated the doctrine of separation of powers, "we, of course, disagree," Cheney said. "But since we're on the subject of separation of powers, one conclusion is hard to escape: The Michigan district courts decision is an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."