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COURT NOMINEE John Roberts spends day visiting reps



Published: Thu, July 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A breakfast with President Bush kicked off the day.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court nominee John Roberts paid courtesy calls on key senators Wednesday as the White House rolled out a methodical campaign to secure his confirmation and Democrats posed their first probing questions.

"No one is entitled to a free pass to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the committee that will question the 50-year-old appeals court judge later this summer.

Abortion and access to internal government memos loomed as likely flash points as Democrats pointed toward the nationally televised proceedings.

But majority Republicans showed no doubt about the outcome. "We intend to have a respectful process here and confirm you before the first Monday in October," Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, second-ranking Republican, told Roberts.

Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pledged "full, fair and complete" hearings, most likely in early September, plenty of time to meet President Bush's goal of a final vote before the high court convenes for its new term.

"I think that they will be extensive hearings, because there will be many questions which will be raised," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "But based on Judge Roberts' qualifications, my instinct is that he'll have the answers."

Moving court to the right

Bush and conservatives who swiftly rallied around Roberts were counting on it -- yet the administration took no chances as it sought to fill the seat held by Sandra Day O'Connor. She has frequently cast the deciding vote in recent years on 5-4 rulings relating to abortion rights, affirmative action, states rights and more.

Justice O'Connor's retirement opened the first vacancy on the high court in 11 years, and gave the president a chance to place a more conservative stamp on the federal courts.

Roberts began his day at the White House, where he had breakfast with the president. The next stop was the Capitol, where he made the rounds of leading Republican and Democratic senators.

Progress For America, a conservative organization with ties to the administration, unveiled the opening salvo in an ad campaign designed to ensure confirmation. It stressed Roberts' r & eacute;sum & eacute; of academic and professional accomplishments and public service -- first in his class at Harvard law school, confirmed by the Senate to his current position, lawyer in two administrations.

The commercial marked the beginning of a confirmation battle of unrivaled cost but uncertain intensity.

For now, at least, the ads touting Roberts went uncountered. However, Ralph Neas, president of People For The American Way, a group allied with the Democrats, said the organization "will have the money to be in radio and TV and in print. It's all a question of strategic timing."

So far, not a single Democratic senator has called for Roberts' outright rejection, and there was no public talk of trying to block a yes or no vote.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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