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Bush Formally Names Roberts as Court Nominee

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is a special report from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In just a few moments, President Bush will formally introduce his choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court. He is Judge John G. Roberts, currently of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judge Roberts is 50 years old, and he comes with strong conservative credentials. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, he served as a clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and we're awaiting for the Republic--excuse me--we're waiting the president to appear at the White House to make his statement shortly. With me in the studio at NPR is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

And, David, what is the White House saying about the process that led to the selection of Judge Roberts?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, Robert, recently when the president went to Denmark, he took with him on the plane a folder of 11 names, and they say that did include some women. It represented what they say was all of America. And they said the president was looking for the brightest mind in the bunch, the person with the most qualifications. And he nailed it down, and they said that Roberts just leapt off the page.

But then, he still wanted to have a face-to-face with the person who he thought he was going to choose, and brought Roberts from London, where he's been teaching, to the White House on Friday. They sat down, they chatted. They even hung out on one of the porches at the White House with the Bush dogs and first lady Laura Bush. And they're painting this as just a match made in heaven; they really got along well.

SIEGEL: And do we know when the White House says it actually made the offer--the president made the actual offer to Judge Roberts?

GREENE: It was in a phone call this afternoon. At 12:35 PM, the president called Roberts and made the offer and said he was the man.

SIEGEL: And now the president and his nominee, Judge Roberts, are speaking at the White House.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Good evening.

One of the most consequential decisions a president makes is his appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court. When a president chooses a justice, he's placing in human hands the authority and majesty of the law. 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.

I have found such a person in Judge John Roberts, and tonight I'm honored to announce that I am nominating to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court. John Roberts currently serves on one of the most influential courts in the nation, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before he was a respected judge, he was known as one of the most distinguished and talented attorneys in America. John Roberts has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice, and is widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and personal decency.

Judge Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in Indiana. In high school, he captained his football team, and he worked summers in a steel mill to help pay his way through college. He's an honors graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. In his career, he has served as a law clerk to Justice William Rehnquist, as an associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan and as the principal deputy solicitor general in the Department of Justice. In public service and in private practice, he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court and earned a reputation as one of the best legal minds of his generation.

Judge Roberts has earned the respect of people from both political parties. After he was nominated for the court of appeals in 2001, a bipartisan group of more than 150 lawyers sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They wrote, `Although as individuals we reflect a wide spectrum of political party affiliation and ideology, we are united in our belief that John Roberts will be an outstanding federal court appeals judge and should be confirmed by the United States Senate.' The signers of this letter included a former counsel to a Republican president, a former counsel to two Democratic presidents and former high-ranking Justice Department officials of both parties.

My decision to nominate Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court came after a thorough and deliberative process. My staff and I consulted with more than 70 members of the United States Senate. I received good advice from both Republicans and Democrats. I appreciate the care they took. I'm grateful for their advice. I've reviewed the credentials of many well-qualified men and women. I met personally with a number of potential nominees. In my meetings with Judge Roberts, I have been deeply impressed. He's a man of extraordinary accomplishment and ability. He has a good heart. He has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness and civility. He has profound respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen. He will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench.

He's also a man of character who loves his country and his family. I'm pleased that his wife, Jane, and his two beautiful children, Jack and Josie, could be with us tonight. Judge Roberts has served his fellow citizens well, and he is prepared for even greater service.

Under the Constitution, Judge Roberts now goes before the United States Senate for confirmation. I've recently spoken with leaders Senator Frist and Senator Reid, and with senior members of the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Specter and Senator Leahy. These senators share my goal of a dignified confirmation process that is conducted with fairness and civility. The appointments of the two most recent justices to the Supreme Court prove that this confirmation can be done in a timely manner, so I have full confidence that the Senate will rise to the occasion and act promptly on this nomination. It is important that the newest justice be on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes in October. I believe that Democrats and Republicans alike will see the strong qualifications of this fine judge as they did when they confirmed him by unanimous consent to the judicial seat he now holds.

I look forward to the Senate voting to confirm Judge John Roberts as the 109th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Roberts, thank you for agreeing to serve and congratulations.

Judge JOHN G. ROBERTS (Supreme Court Nominee): Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. 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. 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. I am very grateful for the confidence the president has shown in nominating me, and I look forward to the next step in the process before the United States Senate.

It's also appropriate for me to acknowledge that I would not be standing here today if it were not for the sacrifice and help of my parents, Jack and Rosemary Roberts, my three sisters, Kathy(ph), Peggy and Barbara, and, of course, my wife, Jane. And I also want to acknowledge my children--my daughter Josie, my son Jack--who remind me every day why it's so important for us to work to preserve the institutions of our democracy. Thank you again very much.

Pres. BUSH: Good job, John. Thank you very much.

Judge ROBERTS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Judge John Roberts, speaking at the White House after being introduced by President Bush.

He currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He has been chosen by the president to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. We'll be hearing some reaction from Democrats on Capitol Hill shortly, from Democrats on the committee that will consider the nomination.

Here in the studio now David Greene, NPR White House correspondent, and NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

David, one last point about process, about what the White House is saying: Why today? Why now did they come up with the nomination? Did they give a timetable?

GREENE: Well, it was a little unexpected. At first when this process started, the White House was signaling it may take a while; it may really string this out so a confirmation battle didn't dominate the whole summer leading up to when a confirmation might finally take place. In recent days, it seemed they were trying to accelerate the process. Why that was we don't know. The White House said today that it was just the Senate clock was running out; they had to get a name there before the Senate recess next week.

But it certainly seemed like this news is now dominating at a time when, you know, the last few days, the news for the White House wasn't that good. It was Karl Rove; it was questions about who leaked the name of a CIA operative. So whether it was their intention or not, they've certainly gotten that news off the headlines.

SIEGEL: Nina, the news is Judge Roberts. He's not entirely--he's not news to you. This is a judicial heavyweight here.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Actually, Robert--yeah. Robert, you know, he's probably not news to careful listeners of ours because he has argued so many cases in the Supreme Court. And he's always been very generous with his time before he went on the bench, and he would always come over here and do interviews with me about the clients that he was representing and the issues that he was representing.

And I remember--you know, we heard from David about how Judge Roberts and the president got along famously, and I...

SIEGEL: Nina, I'm going to have to interrupt, because we're going to hear right now from Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who's the ranking Democrat on Judiciary.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): ...announce his choice. Now the Senate has to rise to the challenge and do its work. To fulfill our constitutional duties, we need to consider this nomination as thoroughly and carefully as the American people deserve. It's going to take time and the cooperation of the nominee and the administration. After all, a member of the Supreme Court is there for all people in this country no matter what their party. And that means that Republicans as well as Democrats have to take seriously our constitutional obligations on behalf of all Americans.

We have to ensure the Supreme Court remains a protector of all Americans' rights and liberties from government intrusion, and that the Supreme Court understands the role of Congress in passing legislation to protect ordinary Americans from special interest abuses. No one is entitled to a free pass to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Someone confirmed today can be expected to serve on the court until the year 2030 or later.

How the nominee views precedent, what he regards as solid law, how he will exercise the incredible power of a Supreme Court justice to be the final arbiter of our rights and the meaning of the Constitution--all of these raise very different considerations than in the lower court. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom I voted for for the Supreme Court, is a model justice. She brought a fair and open mind to the bench; she decided cases without a political agenda; she's widely respected as a jurist of common sense and practical values. She didn't prejudge cases, and I regret that the extreme right has been so critical of her and was so adamantly opposed to her successor sharing her judicial philosophy.

Now the Constitution calls on us in the Senate to examine nominations to the court, not to rubber-stamp them. I look forward to hearings that are going to inform the Senate and all Americans. I'll work with Chairman Specter to have a fair hearing. It's going to take a fair amount of time to do that, but we'll do it. They will be thorough hearings, and I really do not expect any issues that go to the qualifications, the honesty, the integrity and the fairness, the fairness, of a Supreme Court justice to be off limits. All those questions can be asked.

Chuck Schumer is the Democrat who represents us on the subcommittee...

SIEGEL: Well, we've heard from Senator Patrick Leahy, who is the senior Democrat on Judiciary. His opposite number--Republican counterpart is Arlen Specter, who's the chairman; the Republicans are in the majority.

And, Nina Totenberg, from what we've heard in the past from Senator Specter, when--we've just heard from Senator Leahy, what do you expect in the way of confirmation hearings?

TOTENBERG: Well, look, Judge Roberts is a man who has a lot of friends in Washington, including Democratic friends. In the last half-hour, I've already talked to a couple of leading Democratic lawyers who just are singing his praises, on the record. The Washington Post when he was--there was a brief period of time when he didn't get confirmed because he was caught up in some other people's controversies, they were editorializing, `Confirm this guy. Do it now. It's not fair.' So I don't see, unless something unexpected happens, that there will be an enormous controversy about this nominee.

On the other hand, the place where there is possibly a controversy is over his papers when he served in various administrations. And you can be sure that the Democrats will want to see some of them, and that the administration will not want to produce them. They will say, `They are executive private business, and you're not entitled to them.'

SIEGEL: You mean his papers from when he was deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department in the Bush administration?

TOTENBERG: And in the White House, and also...

SIEGEL: The White House Office of Legal Counsel under Reagan.

TOTENBERG: When he worked for--he was the special assistant to William French Smith, who was attorney general under President Reagan. And in all of those positions, he undoubtedly has memoranda that he wrote that are--some of which are clearly executive privilege and others of which can be argued over. And each side will say, `Well, in such and such a battle, we got that kind of a memorandum,' and the other side will say, `You've never gotten that kind of a memorandum.'

But if you were to see a memo, for example, where a nominee says what his personal views are, not just `I would advise you to do this and I would advise you to do that,' but `I think this is an outrage and X, Y and Z,' it would be something.

SIEGEL: But barring a bombshell here, if you had to handicap this from what you know about Judge Roberts so far, the way he's regarded by lawyers of both parties and what he's done in the past, you're saying--no Supreme Court nomination is a slam dunk, but this one looks pretty solid. Don't you think?

TOTENBERG: It's pretty dunky, I'd say at the moment.

SIEGEL: Pretty dunky. OK.

TOTENBERG: At the moment.

SIEGEL: I promise I won't quote you on that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.