WASHINGTON – President Bush on Tuesday picked Judge John G. Roberts Jr. (search) to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search).
Roberts, 50, is a conservative who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A former clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, his name has been floated for months as a possible Bush selection for the high court.
Bush announced the nomination to the American public at 9 p.m. EDT — with Roberts appearing alongside the president.
Speaking from the East Room, Bush said Roberts is "widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and personal decency.
"The decisions of the Supreme Court affect the life of every American. And so a nominee to that court must be a person of superb credentials and the highest integrity, a person who will faithfully apply the Constitution and keep our founding promise of equal justice under law," Bush said.
"I have found such a person in Judge John Roberts. And tonight I am honored to announce that I am nominating him to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court."
Roberts, who will have to re-sell himself to the Judiciary panel that voted for him 16-3 in 2003, said that he was honored to be nominated.
"Thank you very much. It is both an honor and very humbling to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. Before I became a judge, my law practice consisted largely of arguing cases before the court. That experience left me with a profound appreciation for the role of the court in our constitutional democracy and a deep regard for the court as an institution," Roberts said.
"I always got a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the court, and I don't think it was just from the nerves," he added.
Experience at the Court
Roberts is no stranger to the Supreme Court. He served as a law clerk to Rehnquist and was the deputy solicitor general during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, where he argued cases in front of the court. He also served as associate counsel to President Reagan during Reagan's first term.
In his capacity as assistant solicitor, Roberts argued 39 cases before the high court, winning 25 of them as well as credit from court-watchers as one of the best litigators in a generation.
Bush nominated Roberts to the D.C. Circuit Court on Jan. 7, 2003. He was confirmed four months later.
During his confirmation hearing to the appeals court, Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Roe v. Wade is "the settled law of the land. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."
Quick Reactions to the Nominee
Conservatives and court-watchers were quick to praise Roberts.
Stuart Taylor, a senior writer and columnist for the National Journal, said Roberts was only on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. for two years, but he is well qualified for the job.
"He doesn't have an extensive record there. But he is very well qualified. He had a reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, appellate litigator in the country. Conservatives are very comfortable with him. They think he is one of them, but he'd be easier to confirm ... because he doesn't have a controversial paper trail and he has a lot of friends across the political spectrum," Taylor told FOX News.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that the president has done his job by selecting Roberts and made the right decision.
"Judge Roberts is an exceptional judge, brilliant legal mind, and a man of outstanding character who understands his profound duty to follow the law. He has enjoyed a distinguished history of public service and professional achievement. It is clear to me that Judge Robert's history has prepared him well for the honor of serving this country on our nation's highest court, and I strongly support his nomination," Cornyn said.
But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who last week laid out a list of questions that a Supreme Court nominee should answer, said that Roberts has an obligation to answer those questions.
"The burden is on a nominee to the Supreme Court to prove that he is worthy, not on the Senate to prove that he is unworthy. I voted against Judge Roberts for the D.C. Court of Appeals because he didn't answer questions fully and openly when he appeared before the committee," Schumer said.
"I hope Judge Roberts, understanding how important this nomination is — particularly when replacing a swing vote on the court — will decide to answer questions about his views," he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he wants to know if Roberts will be an "activist judge."
"We have, right now, the most activist Supreme Court in my lifetime. No Supreme Court of my lifetime has overturned or undercut more laws passed by Congress than this court has, everything from Violence Against Women on through, environmental laws, employment laws, all of these things. This is a very, very activist court. I want to know whether he's going to be like that, somebody who would eagerly and willingly overturn settled law," Leahy said.
Added Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who also opposed Roberts in 2003: "The president had an opportunity to unite the country with his Supreme Court nomination, to nominate an individual in the image of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Instead, by putting forward John Roberts' name, President Bush has chosen a more controversial nominee and guaranteed a more controversial confirmation process."
A Conservative First Choice
While many names had been floated as the possible Supreme Court pick, one certainty was that the nominee was going to be conservative.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the so-called "Gang of 14" senators who crafted an agreement that called for the use of a judicial filibuster only in "extraordinary circumstances," said he had met with Roberts before his nomination to the Circuit Court and he was happy to vote for him then and again now.
"He's a well-respected lawyer, 153 lawyers in the D.C. area [were] supporting his nomination to the Court of Appeals," Graham told FOX News, referring to a letter of support Roberts won in 2003.
Earlier in the day, Graham argued that Democrats should not be surprised by the nomination of a conservative to the bench. Graham noted that simply being conservative was "no longer an extraordinary circumstance" as defined by the "Gang of 14" agreement.
"President Bush campaigned he would pick a solid conservative, I expect for him to live up to his promise. Our goal is to make sure a solid conservative sits on the Supreme Court that is not beholden to any special interest group," Graham said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was called to the White House on Monday to discuss the timing of an announcement. Specter, who will lead the confirmation process in the Senate, has said he hoped Bush would select a jurist who will bring "balance" to the court. On Tuesday evening, however, Specter said Roberts had "extraordinary professional qualifications.
"I would say professionally, it would be hard to find someone with better credentials than Judge Roberts, but you ask a question whether it's a safe nomination. I don't know that anything in Washington is safe if it's a nomination," Specter said. "Let's give the hearing process a chance and let's give Roberts a hearing. I'm just a little surprised that he's already subject to criticism, but this is America."
Long before Monday's meeting with Specter, Bush had been considering O'Connor's replacement and consulting with lawmakers and aides.
Days after O'Connor announced her retirement on July 1, the president headed to Denmark to thank the Danes for their support of the war in Iraq. While traveling, the president carried a list of 11 names to review. Upon his return, Bush scheduled meetings with senators to hear their input.
Last Thursday and Friday, Bush met with five potential nominees, and on Friday invited Roberts for a tour of the residence and an hour-long visit. Aides said the purpose of the meeting was to see if Roberts' character matched his "extraordinary resume."
After the meeting, aides say the president considered each of the candidates and conferred with Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other advisers. On Monday, he decided on Roberts and following a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Bush called to ask Roberts to accept the nomination.
According to aides, after the president and candidate spoke, Bush turned to the first lady and said, "I just offered the job to a great, smart lawyer who has agreed to serve on the bench." Roberts and his wife then had dinner with the Bushes on Tuesday evening.
Finally, the president called Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Minority Leader Harry Reid, Specter and Leahy to tell them that Roberts was the nominee for O'Connor's seat. In all, the president consulted with 70 senators, including three-quarters of the Democratic caucus, aides said.
Cornyn said that now that the president had made his choice for the Senate to confirm, "the nominations process should reflect the best of the American judiciary — not the worst of American politics."
Confirmation hearings could begin in September, after Congress returns from its traditional August recess. Roberts is headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where he will meet first with Frist and also has scheduled time with Leahy and other committee members.
Graham said the average time for confirmation during the Clinton era was 58 days, giving the Senate time enough to confirm Roberts before the Supreme Court opens its next session on the first Monday in October.
A Successful Head Fake
Roberts' nomination comes as a surprise after an all-day festival of speculation in Washington and on the cable news networks, where the race was handicapped in favor of 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith "Joy" Clement. Clement was seen as an uncontroversial, moderate jurist who would likely be passed through Congress without an enormous fight.
But as evening approached, Clement herself told a network news broadcast that she had not been selected. That led to speculation that Bush would go with a more conservative nominee, one who would please his ardent supporters.
Several names had been under consideration, including Edith Hollan Jones, who also serves on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans; Maura Corrigan, a judge on the Michigan Supreme Court; Cecilia M. Altonaga, a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Florida; Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor; Karen Williams from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.; Janice Rogers Brown, recently confirmed by the Senate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and Priscilla Owen, who was just confirmed for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other possible candidates were conservative federal appellate court judges Samuel Alito, J. Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, Emilio Garza and J. Harvie Wilkinson III and former deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.
At least one court-watcher said the president's bait-and-switch was masterful.
"I want to congratulate the president for confusing the rest of Washington," former Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana told FOX News, admitting that when he was booked to appear on the air, he thought he was going to be talking about Clement.
FOX News' Julie Asher, Major Garrett, Wendell Goler, Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.