ABC News' Bret Hovell reports: During a speech designed to reach out to conservative voters on the issue of judicial responsibility, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain took Democratic candidate Barack Obama to task for not voting for the confirmation of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Watch the VIDEO HERE.
During a speech at Wake Forest University, McCain said Sen. Obama, D-Ill., "likes to talk up his background...as someone who can work across the aisle to get things done. But when Judge Roberts was nominated, it seemed to bring out more the lecturer in Senator Obama than it did the guy who can get things done. He went right along with the partisan crowd, and was among the 22 senators to vote against this highly qualified nominee," McCain said.
"Apparently, nobody quite fits the bill for an elite group of activist judges, lawyers, and law professors who think they know wisdom when they see it -- and they see it only in each other," McCain said of Obama and the Democrats who voted against Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
McCain compared that to his own record.
"I have my own standards of judicial ability, experience, philosophy, and temperament..." he said. "And yet when President Bill Clinton nominated [Justice] Stephen Breyer and [Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsberg to serve on the high court, I voted for their confirmation, as did all but a few of my fellow Republicans. Why? Why? For the simple reason, for the simple reason, that the nominees were qualified, and it would have been petty, and partisan, and disingenuous to insist otherwise."
The Arizona Republican indicted the entire federal court system for he sees as its embrace of judicial activism, calling the "common and systematic abuse of our federal courts" the "great exception" to a system of checks and balances in this country that otherwise works well.
"The duties and boundaries of the Constitution are not just a set of helpful suggestions," McCain said. "They are not just guidelines to be observed when it's convenient and loosely interpreted when it isn't."
McCain accused so-called activist judges of showing "little regard for the authority of the president, the Congress and the states. They display even less interest in the will of the people."
"The only remedy available to any of us is to find, nominate and confirm better judges," McCain said.
McCain laid out several examples of what he called judicial activism, citing a Missouri death penalty case, an eminent domain case in Connecticut, and a case which challenged the words "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance.
"The sum effect of these capricious rulings has been to spread confusion instead of clarity in our vital national debates," he said.
To remedy this, McCain said, he will appoint jurists like Roberts, Alito, and "my friend, the late [former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] William Rehnquist."
"I will not seek the confidence of the American people in my nominees until my own confidence is complete – until I am certain of my nominee's ability, wisdom, and demonstrated fidelity to the Constitution,” McCain said. "I will look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint."
The Arizona Senator criticized both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for their positions on the judiciary.
"They are both lawyers themselves, and don't seem to mind at all when fundamental questions of social policy are preemptively decided by judges instead of by the people and their elected representatives," McCain said.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor responded to McCain in a written statement.
"The Straight Talk Express took another sharp right turn today as John McCain promised his conservative base four more years of out-of-touch judges that would threaten a woman’s right to choose, gut the campaign finance reform that bears his own name, and trample the rights and interests of the American people," the statement said.
Continuing Vietor said, "Barack Obama has always believed that our courts should stand up for social and economic justice, and what’s truly elitist is to appoint judges who will protect the powerful and leave ordinary Americans to fend for themselves."
McCain's speech on judicial philosophy was seen as an attempt to reach out to conservatives on the role of judges in government, an area in which McCain has not always inspired confidence from the far right of the Republican party. McCain was joined on stage by former Senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and Solicitor General of the United States Theodore Olsen. Both are trusted by conservatives for their judicial views.
McCain's speech was well received by an audience made up primarily of Wake Forest University students. He delivered the talk in Wake Forest's chapel, the symbolism of which was not lost on him.
"I have a feeling this fellow [who filed the 'Under God' case] will get wind of my remarks today – and we're all in for trouble when he hears that we met in a chapel," McCain joked.