Senate confirmation hearings begin Tuesday September 6 for President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge John Roberts. 

Judge Roberts has been nominated to take the place of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"Before I became a judge, my law practice consisted largely of arguing cases before the court.  That experience left me with a profound appreciation for the role of the court in our constitutional democracy and a deep regard for the court as an institution," said Mr. Roberts.

In announcing his choice back in July, President Bush noted Judge Roberts' extensive legal experience and said he has a reputation for wisdom, fairness and civility. 

 "John Roberts has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice and is widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and personal decency," Mr. Bush said.

Liberal activist groups were quick to criticize Judge Roberts and several have come out against him.  They question his commitment to protecting privacy rights and want Senate Democrats to press him about his personal view on the controversial issue of abortion.

"We had hoped that President Bush would unite the country around a nominee who would maintain the current balance on the court, a nominee all Americans could count on to uphold our rights and liberties," said Ralph Neas, who heads the liberal group, People for The American Way.  "Sadly, President Bush did not do that."

Conservative activists have been equally busy defending Judge Roberts.  Ben Ginsberg is with a group called Progress for America that has been lobbying senators to confirm Judge Roberts.

"John Roberts is really the left's worst nightmare.  He is a great intellect, an outstanding lawyer, a student of the Supreme Court and just an all round nice guy," he said.

The confirmation hearings will take place before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  After several days of public testimony and questioning, the committee will vote whether to recommend his nomination to the full Senate, which must confirm him by a simple majority vote.

Republicans control 55 of the 100 Senate seats and have vowed to defend Judge Roberts during the hearings.

Opposition Democrats say they intend to press the nominee for his views on a range of specific legal questions, including abortion.

"Is he an agenda-driven ideologue who will impose his views on the American people or is he a mainstream, albeit conservative, mainstream jurist," asked New York Democrat Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Activist groups on both ends of the political spectrum are energized by the Roberts confirmation hearings because this is the first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years.

Most political analysts are predicting Judge Roberts will be confirmed unless Democrats find something controversial in his background during the hearings.

"Everybody seems to admit he is conservative," said Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes a political newsletter in Washington.  "He is also bright.  He has no obvious ethical problems.  That probably means the Democrats are going to have to dig up a good deal of controversy if they are going to challenge this nomination seriously."

Political and legal analysts say there is intense interest in the confirmation process because any change in the nine-member Supreme Court can have a significant, long-term impact on the everyday lives of Americans.

"Every American is going to be reminded in these hearings that every vote on the Supreme Court matters enormously," said Larry Sabato, who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.  "They tend to disagree with one another, they tend to factionalize, so each new justice has a major, really a tremendous impact on individual lives, on the exercise of our rights and our responsibilities."

President Bush and his Republican allies in the Senate hope to have Judge Roberts confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in time for the next high court session that begins on October 3.