As Reuters was the first to report tonight, President Bush’s nominee to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court is conservative appeals court judge John Roberts.

Liberal groups immediately sounded the alarm, citing Roberts’ positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty and especially a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion. (“The court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion … finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution,” the brief said.)

Moreover, as the Alliance for Justice noted in a report prepared in 2003 after Roberts’ last court appointment, he “has a record of hostility to the rights of minorities and women. He has also taken controversial positions in favor of weakening the separation of church and state and limiting the permissible role of the federal courts in protecting the environment. Although Mr. Roberts is indisputably a very capable lawyer, that alone does not qualify him for such a prestigious and critical post.”

This is a real in-your-face selection by the president, and the Dems’ response remains to be seen. Stalwart senators like Edward Kennedy, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin can be expected to respond in kind but the Senate leader Harry Reid sounded an alarmingly cautious note when he told the New York Times, “The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials.” Fortunately this fight should energize some potentially very large segments of society which would be affected by a Court that will threaten the future of legal abortions, affirmative action for minority groups, and other issues that many Americans have long taken for granted.

Watch The Nation online for commentary on John Roberts and watch this space for info on how you can help oppose his ascension to the nation’s highest court. And in the meantime, click here to implore your senator to oppose Roberts and click here to check out NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Supreme Court Action Kit.

The Alliance for Justice and the People for the American Way are two more important groups working to rally opposition to a nominee far to the right of the judicial mainstream. Check out their websites (here and here) for info on what’s expected next and what you can help do about it.

Another great resource for activists is the Moving Ideas Network’s Supreme Court Action Guide which features a raft of useful educational and activist links. Click here to check it out.