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Bush: Al Gonzales is a Friend of Mine

WWW- President Bush said Monday that special-interest groups running TV ads and mobilizing supporters for a fight over his choice of a successor to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor should “tone down the heated rhetoric.” He forcefully defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a prospect criticized by conservatives.

President Bush said he won’t rush a decision on the Supreme Court vacancy, but he wants it filled before the court resumes in October.

“Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine,” Bush said in a phone interview. “When a friend gets attacked, I don’t like it.”

Conservative groups have criticized Gonzales, who, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, backed exceptions to a state law requiring teenagers to notify a parent before getting an abortion.

In his first response to questions about the vacancy since O’Connor’s surprise announcement Friday, Bush said he won’t rush a decision but wants her successor to be on the bench when the Supreme Court resumes work in October.

He said he’s considering – “a good-sized” number of prospects. “I will begin to hone in on a handful of candidates over the course of the next few weeks,” he said. Then, he said, he will interview them himself.

Asked whether women and minorities are on his list, Bush said, “Of course there’s a diverse group of citizens.” He hasn’t identified any potential nominees. Gonzales is Hispanic; the court has never had a Hispanic member.

Bloggers are abuzz over who President Bush will appoint to the Supreme Court. Check out the reaction:

Kay Daly of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, a coalition of conservative organizations, said her group is split on Gonzales. She said some think Gonzales’ record “does not fit” the conservative mold of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whom Bush has repeatedly cited as models for his choice of a nominee to the high court.

O’Connor’s resignation announcement was a surprise to the White House. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is battling cancer, was considered the most likely to depart.

O’Connor’s decision immediately launched an aggressive effort by interest groups to influence Bush’s choice of a replacement.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, is running a TV ad asking whether Bush will “follow history, choosing a judge who protects our fundamental rights and freedoms,” or “divide the country.” Progress for America, a conservative group, has sent 8.7 million e-mails telling supporters to ignore Democrats’ attacks.

Richard Davis, a political science professor at Brigham Young University and author of Electing Justice: Fixing the Supreme Court Nomination Process, said the coming weeks will “look like a presidential campaign.”

At stake are divisive issues such as abortion rights and affirmative action. Bush, who has said Americans aren’t ready to ban abortion, declined to say whether he will name a justice who would vote to outlaw it. “As I have repeatedly said, I do not believe in a litmus test for my judges,” he said.

Bush said lobbying won’t affect him: “I feel no pressure except the pressure to put somebody on the bench who will bring dignity to the office, somebody who’s got the intellect necessary to do the job, somebody of great integrity and somebody who will faithfully interpret the Constitution.”

He cautioned against a partisan war. “I would hope that the groups involved in this process – the special-interest groups – will help tone down the heated rhetoric and focus on the nominee’s credentials and philosophy,” he said.

The Senate, which has been fighting for months about his nominees to federal courts, can “get rid of the bitterness and rancor that seem to have been prevalent in a lot of the recent debates,” he said.



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