Liberals perceive pick as divisive

Washington Bureau

Liberal groups moved immediately Tuesday night to portray President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts Jr., as a divisive choice whose past advocacy for limitations on individual rights demanded a thorough examination of his judicial record and legal philosophy.

Some liberal advocates called for an all-out war to stop the nomination, while others offered a more measured initial response.

Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said confirmation of Roberts would set "the court back half a century. . . . He will roll back workers' rights, women's rights and civil rights."

Shortly after Bush made his announcement, the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America already had begun mobilizing supporters to lobby against Roberts' confirmation, posting a form on its Web site to allow visitors to directly e-mail senators, voicing their opposition.

"President Bush has consciously chosen the path of confrontation, and he should know that we, and the 65 percent of Americans who support Roe, are ready for the battle ahead," Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, conservative groups enthusiastically embraced the choice of a jurist whose views on the law they consider in tune with their own. One advocacy organization, Progress for America, was already preparing commercials to air in 24 to 48 hours to cultivate a favorable public impression of Roberts while voters' opinions are most malleable.

The selection was especially welcome to the right following speculation that the president would nominate someone with a less well-defined philosophy. Immediately after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, social conservatives were irritated by reports that Bush might choose Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, whose views on abortion rights are unclear. And earlier Tuesday, reports suggested that Bush would pick Edith Clement, an appellate judge in New Orleans with a minimal paper trail.

By contrast, Roberts is a former Republican Justice Department official well-known in conservative legal circles. He has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, both as a government lawyer and a private attorney.

"Judge Roberts is an exceptional choice who will bring sound legal reasoning to the Supreme Court," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group founded by television evangelist Pat Robertson.

Former presidential candidate and evangelical activist Gary Bauer lauded Roberts as "a refreshing nominee" who adheres to a philosophy of "judicial restraint long missing from so many activist courts."

But liberal groups said they were troubled by positions Roberts took when he worked in President George H.W. Bush's administration and as a federal judge on a range of hot-button issues. As deputy solicitor general during the elder Bush's administration, he urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade, saying the abortion rights decision had no constitutional basis. The groups also said that as an appellate judge, he has opposed veterans rights and environmental protection.

The Alliance for Justice, one of the three major organizations orchestrating the response of numerous groups on the left, was less immediately confrontational but still critical.

Nan Aron, the organization's president, said in a statement, "While we will be conducting a complete analysis of his record on and off the bench, an initial review has led to serious concerns about whether he will be fair, independent and will protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans."

Conservative legal advocates predicted that Roberts would perform well at his confirmation hearings.

"This man knows how to think on his feet," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian advocacy organization. "The American people will like him in his confirmation hearing. He's very personable."


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