With the Republicans having secured another four years in the White House and expanded their power base in Congress, liberals believe the US Supreme Court could be the next in line for a shift to the right.
They said yesterday that the move could threaten such landmark decisions such as Roe v Wade, which defends the right to abortion.
Three of the current nine justices are said to be considering retirement, among them the ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, who is having treatment for thyroid cancer.
It is likely that in his next four years President Bush will appoint two or three new justices.
Mr Bush has made clear his intention to appoint conservative judges and would not require them to pass the "litmus test"of protecting the 1973 Roe ruling. In a sign of early concerns yesterday, the Republican expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee warned Mr Bush to avoid proposing ultra-conservative nominees whose nomination hearings would turn into a battle.
Even with its depleted minority of 45 Senate seats, the Democrats would launch a bitter filibuster attempt to derail their appointments, he said.
Frances Kissling, president of the pro-choice group Catholics for a Free Choice, said: "[Roe] is definitely under threat. Bush is likely to appoint two or three justices during the next four years.
"I don't think overturning Roe is George Bush's first priority, but I do think his priority is satisfying his conservative base."
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