(CNSNews.com) - Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy Friday praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but also threatened to oppose the choice of a replacement "if the president abuses his power and nominates someone who threatens to roll back the rights and freedoms of the American people."
If that situation develops, Kenndy warned, "then the American people will insist that we oppose that nominee, and we intend to do so."
Kennedy, who supports abortion rights, has been one of the most aggressive Senate opponents of President Bush's conservative nominees for lower federal court vacancies -- often rallying liberal interest groups to oppose the nominations as well.
While O'Connor provided the deciding vote on the Supreme Court to stop the manual recount of Florida ballots in the 2000 presidential election than handed George Bush the presidency over Democrat Al Gore, she pleased liberals over the last quarter century by consistently defending Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Friday, Kennedy called O'Connor "a wise judge who served the nation and the Constitution well.
"Justice O'Connor was a mainstream conservative and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate," Kennedy continued. "I hope the president will select someone who meets the high standards that she set and that can bring the nation together as she did."
Kennedy urged Bush to consult with the Senate and to choose a nominee "whose record is consistent with the ideals and freedoms of the United States." In a longer statement, submitted for the Congressional Record, Kennedy criticized President Bush for meeting with "prominent outside allies on the right, who are so sure that the President will nominate a non-consensus candidate, that they have put an $18 million war-chest in place to defend that nominee."
He referred to the 14 senators -- seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- who recently cut a deal to allow confirmation votes for some, but not all, of the president's appeals court nominees to receive Senate consideration.
The pact avoided a confrontation between liberal Democrats, seeking to block the nominees from receiving a vote by the full Senate, and the Republican leadership, which had threatened to use Senate procedural rules to force the votes.
Kennedy warned that the continuation of that agreement depends on whether President Bush engages in "serious consultation" with the Senate regarding O'Connor's replacement.
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