McCain will seek judges like Roberts and Alito

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Tuesday he would appoint judges in the mold of conservatives John Roberts, Samuel Alito and former Chief Justice William Rehnquist if he were elected in November.

In a speech in Winston-Salem, the Arizona senator said he would “look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint.”

“I will look for people in the cast of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and my friend the late William Rehnquist -- jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference,” McCain told an audience at Wake Forest University.

Roberts, the current chief justice, and Alito were both named to the U.S. Supreme Court by Republican President George W. Bush. Legal experts say they have helped shift it to the right. The court has the final word on questions of U.S. law and its rulings affect the rights of all Americans.

The Supreme Court has been closely divided between liberal and conservative factions on such contentious issues as abortion, the death penalty and church-state separation.

Supreme Court justices are appointed for life and Republicans and Democrats have battled frequently over judicial nominations, which must be voted on by the U.S. Senate.

McCain angered some conservatives in 2005 when he joined with a group of Democratic and Republicans senators on a compromise that averted a threat by leaders in the then-Republican-led Senate to prevent Democrats from blocking consideration of Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.

In his speech, McCain slammed what he called “judicial activism” in court appointments, and criticized Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for voting against the nominations of Roberts and Alito.

“Senators Obama and Clinton have very different ideas from my own. They are both lawyers themselves, and don’t seem to mind at all when fundamental questions of social policy are preemptively decided by judges instead of by the people and their elected representatives,” McCain said.

Referring to Obama, he said, “Apparently, nobody quite fits the bill (for the court) 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.

Clinton’s campaign shot back over McCain’s charges of partisanship, arguing that he had voted for “extreme conservative judges” including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“In an effort to pander to conservative voters, Senator McCain has signaled his intention to appoint right-wing judges who are committed to rolling back women’s rights and civil rights, elevating the interests of big business over the rights of workers and consumers, affirming executive branch power grabs, and undermining our common core freedoms,” Clinton Campaign Police director Neera Tanden said.

“Senator Clinton has a different vision. She will appoint judges who respect the separation of powers, are steadfast in protecting civil rights and liberties, including the right of privacy, and who cherish equal justice under law.”

Editing by Chris Wilson