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O'Connor: Roberts Is 'First Rate'

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said Wednesday that the man President Bush nominated to replace her is "first rate," but she's disappointed in a sense that the nominee isn't a woman.

O'Connor didn't learn of the nomination of federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts until she heard about it on the radio while returning from a fishing trip, her fishing companion said.

"I have watched Judge Roberts since he has been an advocate before our court, and I and my colleagues have been enormously impressed with his scholarship and his skills," O'Connor said in an interview Wednesday during the annual conference of the 9th U.S. Circuit in Spokane. "He's earned an excellent reputation as a lawyer, so I think he's very well qualified."

"I am disappointed, in a sense, to see the percentage of women on our court drop by 50 percent, but I can't be disappointed in the quality of person nominated. He's first rate," she added.

She announced her retirement July 1.

When the president announced his choice Tuesday, O'Connor had gone fishing in the Idaho Panhandle with U.S. District Judge Robert H. Whaley of Spokane.

Mr. Bush tried to give her advance notice on Roberts, but they were out of cellular telephone range on the St. Joe River, Whaley told The Seattle Times.

He said O'Connor learned of the nomination over the car radio when they returned to Spokane shortly before 6 p.m. PDT.

As for the fishing, Whaley said, O'Connor was skunked.

The 9th Circuit conference is a gathering of lawyers and federal judges from nine Western states. O'Connor is scheduled to address the group Thursday.