John McCain's speech on judges Tuesday produced a political debate over President Bush's Supreme Court appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
The Republican presidential candidate said Roberts and Alito would be his models for judicial nominations, contrasting them with "activist judges" who would rather make laws than interpret them.
"With a presumption that would have amazed the framers of our Constitution, and legal reasoning that would have mystified them, federal judges today issue rulings and opinions on policy questions that should be decided democratically," McCain said during a speech in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean responded to McCain's speech in a statement:
"As John McCain said today, our next president will make hundreds of judicial nominees with far-reaching consequences for the future of our country. Given John McCain's radical, right wing judicial philosophy, it's clear he's the wrong choice to safeguard that future. No matter how far they have gone to restrict our fundamental rights or their clear records of gutting the reforms John McCain claims to care about, he has put loyalty to his party and a radical agenda ahead of the American people. When voters see John McCain's real record, they are not going to elect a radical rubberstamp who voted for every one of President Bush's activist judges and promises hundreds more just like them."
The committee said in an earlier statement that Chief Justice Roberts and associate Alito have made the difference in 5-4 rulings that have restricted peoples' rights. It cited cases that upheld bans on certain late-term abortions, weakened the Endangered Species Act, and limited workers' rights to sue for pay discrimination.
Speaking at Wake Forest University, McCain noted that he voted in favor of President Clinton's Supreme Court nominations, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
He also cited his own examples of how judges have imposed their own values on cases, blasting jurists for citing their "own experience" and "evolving standards of decency," rather than the Constitution and the law.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee also protested the 2005 Supreme Court case that expanded the right of governments to seize private property for eminent domain. He also attacked the appeals court ruling — later overturned — that struck the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
The speech on judicial philosophy is part of a new McCain effort to tend to his conservative base. Judicial nominations have long been a cause of conservatives who say courts overreached when they struck down anti-abortion laws, upheld affirmative actions, and expanded defendants' rights.
Later this month, McCain plans to discuss gun rights at the National Rifle Association convention.
During his judges speech, McCain criticized both potential Democratic opponents, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for voting against Roberts' confirmation as chief justice.
McCain spent more time on Obama, mocking his comment that Supreme Court justices should share "one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy."
Noting that Obama also voted against Alito, McCain said, "apparently nobody quite fits the bill, except for an elite group of activist judges, lawyers, and law professors who think they know wisdom when they see it — and they see it only in each other."
Liberal groups such as People For the American Way used the speech to again portray McCain as a clone of President Bush.
PFAW President Kathyrn Kolbert said McCain was telling the party base, "if you liked George W. Bush's nominees, you're going to love the judges John McCain will put on the bench."