AUGUSTA (AP) – Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday she will vote to confirm Chief Justice-nominee John Roberts.

“He possesses impeccable legal credentials, a brilliant intellect, and outstanding character,” the Maine Republican said in a brief statement distributed by her office.

“My personal discussions with Judge Roberts, as well as his responses during the Judiciary Committee hearings, have convinced me that he respects precedents and will apply the law and Constitution fairly. He is extraordinarily well qualified to serve as chief justice,” Collins said.

A Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Roberts is expected Thursday. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has predicted easy confirmation and, despite lingering debate over Roberts’ reticence under questioning last week, much attention has shifted already to candidates for President Bush’s next Supreme Court nominee.

Bush named Roberts in July, and he would become the court’s first new justice in 11 years. If confirmed, he would succeed Sandra Day O’Connor.

The recent death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist moved Roberts into position to succeed him as the leader of the court and also opened up a second choice for Bush.

Collins and Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe, are widely viewed as GOP moderates and both support abortion rights. Both have been targeted for special lobbying by proponents and opponents of the Roberts nomination.

Snowe and Collins were among 14 Senate centrists who brokered a deal earlier this year to expedite handling of Bush’s judicial nominations.

Bush plans to meet with some senators this week about the next nomination.

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