Activists Against Roberts

Women's rights advocates wasted no time in organizing angry opposition to John G. Roberts, the conservative jurist named Tuesday night to succeed the court's centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Activists sprang into action as word spread of the president's decision, sending e-mail messages late into the night to thousands of supporters urging them to ask their senators to vote against a man they fear will undermine women's rights and work to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision that decriminalized abortion.

"George Bush could have chosen a moderate conservative who would be a voice of reason on the Court," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said in one of many electronic calls to action. "Instead he chose, characteristically, to pick a fight. We intend to give him one."

That fight began in earnest Wednesday morning, when women's and abortion rights supporters from advocacy groups -- such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority Foundation rallied on Capitol Hill to call attention to what they characterized as the endangered status of women's reproductive rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America held a petition signing.

Amid the email salvos and protests, political observers said Roberts has a good chance of winning Senate confirmation -- perhaps by the time the court reconvenes the first Monday in October. Hearings are expected to begin in late August or early September.

"In the end he will get confirmed," said Susan Low Bloch, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "But there will be a fight."

Statement against Roe

Women's rights activists based their opposition to Roberts on the belief he would not support abortion rights. They cite a written statement he made in a court brief while serving as deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled," he wrote.

Roberts downplayed that statement after he had been appointed to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003 that he was obliged at the time to represent the views of the administration, according to news reports.

He also said he considered Roe vs. Wade "settled law," according to the Republican Majority for Choice, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. He added that he held no personal views that would prevent him from applying the precedent set in Roe vs. Wade or Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey, which permitted states to pass anti-abortion restrictions such as waiting periods and parental consent laws but kept core abortion rights intact.

Watched by Pro-Choice Republicans

The apparent contradiction between Roberts' statements on choice has prompted circumspection by pro-choice Republicans, who expressed cautious support of Roberts but called for attention to his record and judicial temperament.

"We remain open-minded and will proceed cautiously as we monitor the confirmation hearings," Republican Majority for Choice officials said in a statement. "Liberal and reactionary opposition based on a circumstantial review of Justice Roberts' limited public record reflect an agenda predisposed to oppose all Republican nominees."

Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, echoed the sentiment at a Wednesday morning news conference.

Senators, he said, would be examining Roberts' views on stare decisis, the legal principal that courts should follow precedent. Roberts' answers may reveal whether he intends to overturn Roe or Casey or whether he regards those cases as having settled the law.

Democrats Muted

Senate Democrats took a similarly muted approach, vowing to conduct a thorough examination of Roberts' record and personal views before making any decisions about whether to support him, a strategy that may inoculate them from accusations of knee-jerk opposition to the president's judicial nominees.

Democrats such as Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin, a liberal member of the Judiciary Committee, hinted that they might withhold support for Roberts if he declines to answer questions about his personal judicial views. But a filibuster did not seem to be in the immediate offing.

"I don't pretend to speak for my other members of the gang of 14, but it's hard for me to believe that he would meet an extraordinary circumstances criteria," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, in an interview with radio personality Don Imus.

Women's rights activists, however, say they have already heard enough to warrant their opposition.

Roberts, they noted, supported allowing blockades at abortion clinics; supported a challenge to federal affirmative action programs and argued against Title IX, the law guaranteeing gender equity in sports and education. He has also declined to reveal his personal views on the right to privacy.

If confirmed, Roberts could provide the vote conservatives need to shift the court to the right in upcoming reproductive rights cases involving parental consent requirements and what abortion opponents call partial birth abortion laws -- statutes that are vaguely worded, provide no exception for a pregnant woman's health and could eliminate most abortions past 12 weeks.

That may be in part why religious and social conservatives appeared satisfied with Roberts, 50, who, if confirmed, could serve for three decades or more.

"Everything we know about Judge Roberts tells us that he fulfills the President's promise to nominate a judge who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench," Jan LaRue, chief council for Concerned Women for America, a socially conservative advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said in press release. "He clerked for Rehnquist, which says a lot." A press release from James Dodson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, made similar statements.

After earning bachelors and law degrees from Harvard University, Roberts clerked for Justice William Rehnquist when he was an associate justice on the Supreme Court and later served in the Reagan and Bush administrations and in private practice. Having argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, he is considered one of the country's premier litigators.

Roberts won easy approval in 2003 to serve on the D.C. circuit court, the second most prestigious court in the country.

"Of all of the people that the president considered as a possible choice, he is a good choice," Bloch said. "Conservatives will be happy. Liberals wouldn't get anyone better."

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