President Bush said on Wednesday he would not choose his Supreme Court candidate based on their position on specific issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
“I’ll pick people who … will strictly interpret the constitution and not use the bench to legislate from,” he said.
Under pressure from opposing activists to pick someone who would either uphold abortion or work to outlaw it, and legalise or outlaw gay marriage, Bush ruled out any such “litmus test” in making his choice.
“There will be no litmus test,” he said, repeating his position during his 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
The White House later said Fred Thompson, a former Republican senator from Tennessee and now a TV actor on the “Law and Order” series, would shepherd the president’s nominee through the Senate confirmation process.
Thompson would not have any role in selecting the person, but would act as an adviser and accompany the nominee on visits with senators, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
“He served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, so he’s someone that brings great expertise and advice to the confirmation process,” McClellan told reporters after Bush arrived in Scotland for the G8 meeting of rich world leaders.
Bush also called on activists of the left and right to lower the tone over whom he should pick in his first nomination to the nine-judge court, an appointment which is for an unlimited term.
Bush urged U.S. senators, who must confirm his choice, not to listen to special interest groups “on the extremes” whom he accused of exploiting the court battle to advance their causes and raise money.
“This is an opportunity for good public servants to exhibit a civil discourse on a very important matter and not let these groups … dictate the rhetoric, the tone,” said Bush, who was celebrating his 59th birthday.
In Washington, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, doubted Bush’s pledge not to give candidates a litmus test on abortion.
“This president has no credibility — to date, he has appointed more than 200 judges to the federal courts — not one of whom supported a woman’s right to choose,” she said.
At a joint news conference with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Bush also defended his attorney general, fellow Texan Alberto Gonzales, against criticism from conservatives that he is too moderate to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
Conservatives have mounted a campaign against Gonzales, a former White House counsel and long-time Bush aide who has been mentioned as a possible replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Gonzales is among a handful of advisers on the Supreme Court choice, but it was unclear whether he is among the more than half a dozen candidates Bush is considering for the job.
“I don’t like it when a friend gets criticized,” Bush said when asked to respond to the attacks on Gonzales.
“I’m loyal to my friends. And all of a sudden this fellow who is a good public servant and a really fine person is under fire. And so, do I like it? No, I don’t like it — at all.”
Bush, in Denmark ahead of attending a Group of Eight (G8) summit in Scotland, said he wants his choice confirmed by the Senate by the time the Supreme Court reconvenes in October.
Whoever he nominates will be the subject of a political battle back home.
O’Connor was a swing vote and her departure gives Bush and conservatives an opportunity to shift the court to the right on social issues like abortion, affirmative action and civil liberties.
But Democrats and interest groups on the left promise a fight to block any nominee they view as too conservative.