WASHINGTON -- President Bush expressed yesterday a wish -- almost certain to be frustrated -- for the Senate to "act swiftly" on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge David H. Souter as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to start questioning him today.
Amid indications that Judge Souter may be on the witness stand two, probably three days, the president told a group of prosecutors at the White House that the Supreme Court needs a "career prosecutor" like Judge Souter in its midst.
Singling out Judge Souter's "decade of law enforcement experience," which preceded his 12 years as a state and federal judge, Mr. Bush said his choice of the New Hampshire nominee was "an important step toward balancing" the scales of justice between suspects' rights and the public's rights to be free "from evil predators."
Although the president and his aides have expressed the hope that Judge Souter could be approved by the Senate in time to join the court at the opening of its new term Oct. 1, Senate sources have said that that kind of prompt action is unlikely.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., has promised intensive questioning, and committee aides were not prepared yesterday to say when the panel's hearings will end. They are due to extend at least into next week.
A final Senate vote may not come for a few weeks, it appears.
Meanwhile, a continuously growing number of civil rights groups are getting into position to try to stop the nomination altogether if not satisfied by the way Judge Souter answers questions.
The National Abortion Rights Action League declared flatly yesterday that if Judge Souter does not give some clear sign that he will vote to retain the abortion ruling -- Roe vs. Wade -- and to protect the fundamental constitutional right of privacy underlying that decision, it will mount a campaign to defeat him.
NARAL Executive Director Kate Michelman said her group had already mobilized a grass-roots movement that would be called into action to seek Judge Souter's defeat if NARAL gives the signal after the nominee has testified.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, headquartered in Baltimore, said it was "troubled" by his record on civil rights and declared it would make up its mind to oppose or not oppose him depending on his responses to senators' questions.
Senators plan to use most of this morning's session to make statements about the nomination, with questioning of Judge Souter likely to start this afternoon.
Souter on TV
Public and cable television outlets plan to broadcast the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination Judge David H. Souter, starting today.
Maryland Public Television intends to provide "gavel to gavel" coverage today, tomorrow and Monday. WETA-TV will broadcast the hearings on the same days, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and CNN will broadcast portions today and perhaps on other days, depending upon developments.
C-Span will provide coverage at 8 p.m. today. National Public Radio will carry occasional reports but will not cover the hearings live.