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Conservatives pin hopes, fears on court pick
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune


July 18, 2005

WASHINGTON - Lloyd Bork, 74, figures the Supreme Court justices are "off their rockers." The Paynesville, Minn., man says they made their very worst decision in 1973, when they legalized abortion, and he hopes President Bush is ready to improve things.

"I think maybe God's still got his hands in what's going on," said Bork, a retired teacher who has been voting for Republicans since the 1950s.

As Bush prepares to nominate a replacement for the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, it's feeling a bit like Christmas Eve for social conservatives. After decades of activism, many of them are delighted at the prospect of momentous change coming to the nation's highest court.

But there's plenty of anxiety among Republicans, too. Some fear that interest groups will push the issue too hard, alienating centrist-minded Americans.

"I have a real difficulty of saying this is a great day for the Republican Party," said former Minnesota Republican Gov. Al Quie.

With Bush expected to announce his nominee at any time, a bruising nomination battle is expected on Capitol Hill in August or September. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, the president said he will make his nomination "in a timely manner" so that a replacement for O'Connor can be seated by early October, when the court begins a new term.

"My nominee will be a fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values," Bush said, adding that the American people expect a confirmation process "that rises above partisanship."

As the White House vets candidates, conservative religious groups are reminding Bush that they helped re-elect him by emphasizing moral issues and voting for him in record numbers in 2004. They're making it clear that they think it's payback time.

"The president must view this fight, along with the war on terror, as the most important in his presidency," said Ken Connor, chairman of the Center for a Just Society, an organization that says it's out to advance "Judeo-Christian principles of human dignity and social justice."

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a group that wants to end abortions in the United States, said Bush was given "a mandate to end abortion" and was given a position of power "for such a time as this."

"Now it is time to fulfill your obligation to God and to those who elected you and appoint a staunchly pro-life judge to the Supreme Court," Newman said in a statement to the president. "The lives of millions of children yet to be conceived are depending on you for their very lives."

Quie, who opposes abortions unless they're deemed necessary to save the life of the mother, doesn't buy the argument.

"I say baloney. I don't believe that any group is owed anything," said Quie, a former U.S. House member who was elected governor of Minnesota in 1978. He said the abortion issue would be better resolved by legislative bodies.

David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., wrote a new book called "The Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court." He said social conservatives are approaching their high-water mark in influence and risk a backlash if they overplay their hand, comparing their situation to Democrats in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"They're right at that edge right now," he said, adding that the activists "have pushed about as far as they can push." He noted that most public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Americans support abortion rights.

This month, Bush expressed annoyance with some of the pressure he's feeling from conservative critics who want a hard-liner on the court. When some questioned whether a possible nominee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was conservative enough on abortion and affirmative action, Bush shot back and called Gonzales "a great friend" and added: "When a friend gets attacked, I don't like it."

Many religious groups plan to step up the pressure. Some have announced plans to pray outside the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol during confirmation hearings. Eight abortion opponents were arrested recently in front of the White House as part of a prayer vigil and demonstration.

"If the president fails us in this one area, it may well be the greatest defeat the pro-life movement has ever experienced," said Brandi Swindell, national director of Generation Life and one of the protesters. Swindell's group opposes abortion and supports "sexual purity" and chastity.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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