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Senate Prepares to Consider Supreme Court Nomination

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Bush this week nominated a federal judge to become the one hundred ninth justice of the United States Supreme Court. John Roberts is fifty years old. He grew up in the Midwestern state of Indiana and attended college and law school at Harvard.

He worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He also worked in the administrations of two presidents: the first George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Mister Roberts represented the government in thirty-nine cases before the Supreme Court.

He has been a judge for two years. He serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court is often called the second most powerful after the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin confirmation hearings by early September.

Supreme Court nominees have often been unwilling to answer questions about their legal positions. The American Bar Association advises nominees not to discuss how they might vote on issues likely to come before them.

There are ten Republicans and eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. Unless they reject a nominee, the next step is a vote by the full Senate.

President Bush noted that the Senate approved Judge Roberts for his current job without any opposition. The president says his nominee would not "legislate" from the court, but would "strictly apply the Constitution and laws."

Conservative groups generally support the nomination of John Roberts. Liberal groups say they are concerned about some of his positions on civil liberties. These include the right of women to end unwanted pregnancies. He has questioned the Supreme Court decision in nineteen seventy-three that made abortion legal. But more recently he has called the ruling "settled law."

Right now, interest groups are examining his record of legal writings to look for his positions on different issues.

President Bush says he wants Judge Roberts on the court when it begins its next term in October.

Since seventeen eighty-nine, the Senate has considered more than one hundred forty Supreme Court nominees. The Senate Historical Office says twenty-seven have been rejected.

No one seems to question the ability of Judge Roberts to do the job. Most concerns being expressed involve the balance of the nine-member court.

The current Supreme Court, unchanged for eleven years, has often been conservative in its rulings. But Judge Roberts would replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She is retiring after twenty-four terms. She often took moderate positions that made the difference in cases decided by votes of five-to-four.

Justice O'Connor was the first woman on the court. Her retirement will leave the only other woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A White House spokesman says the president considered a number of qualified women but believes he chose "the best person to fill this position."

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.