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Roberts Supreme court nominee dodgeball
Roberts Supreme court nominee dodgeball
As expected Roberts is dodging specifics about abortion and other controversial areas. I am convinced he will be confirmed because he is smart, has perfect credentials and no show stoppers. The earlier writings will be dismissed as client's views or those of a younger man advocating. The big fight will be over Sandra O'Connor's successor, if too conservative!
Roberts Dodges Specifics on Abortion
September 13, 2005 1:58 PM EDT
WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee John Roberts jousted with Democratic senators Tuesday at his confirmation hearing to be chief justice, dodging their attempts to pin down his opinions on abortion, voting rights and other legal issues.
Roberts said he felt the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion was "settled as a precedent" and that the Constitution provides a right to privacy.
But when senators pressed for details on his opinions - even to the point of interrupting his answers - Roberts said repeatedly that he shouldn't address some issues that could come before the Supreme Court with him as chief justice.
At one point, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who has indicated he may run for president in 2008, accused Roberts of "filibustering."
"Go ahead and continue not to answer," said Biden. Later, he interrupted Roberts and when criticized, insisted, "His answers are misleading, with all due respect."
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! They may be misleading but they are his answers," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Judiciary Committee chairman.
Roberts - who had noted that Biden earlier would have heard a whole answer if he hadn't interrupted - kept his cool.
"With respect, they are my answers and with respect, they are not misleading," he said.
Senators questioned President Bush's choice to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist on abortion, privacy, voting rights and the balance of power between the branches of government. Roberts frequently answered through the prism of legal precedent but declined to address specifics.
The heart of the abortion ruling is "settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis," the concept that long-established rulings should be given extra weight, Roberts said.
Still, review and revisions have been the hallmark of the high court on issues from integration to gay rights, and Roberts indicated that groundbreaking cases can draw a second look.
"If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable, they don't lead to predictable results, they're difficult to apply, that's one factor supporting reconsideration," Roberts said.
If confirmed, the 50-year-old Roberts would be the youngest chief justice in 200 years, with the power to shape the high court for decades. Democrats and Republicans see no major obstacles to his winning Senate approval and joining the other justices when the new term begins Oct. 3.
In his answers on abortion, Roberts focused on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, referring to that as a precedent-setting case in addition to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
In the Pennsylvania case, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the core holdings of Roe v. Wade and ban states from outlawing most abortions. The court said states could impose restrictions on the procedure that do not impose an "undue burden" on women.
"It reaffirmed the central holding in Roe v. Wade," Roberts said.
Bush originally nominated Roberts to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court's crucial swing vote who announced her plans to retire in July. Within days of Rehnquist's death on Sept. 3, Bush tapped Roberts to be chief justice.
Democrats pressed the appellate judge about his writings on civil rights while a young lawyer in the Reagan administration two decades ago. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., described some of those writings on voting rights as a "narrow, cramped and mean-spirited view" that failed to show a full appreciation of discrimination.
Under questioning from Kennedy, Roberts said that he had no problem with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. "The constitutionality has been upheld, and I don't have any issue with that."
That failed to assuage Kennedy, who spoke critically and at length about Roberts' writings. Kennedy was interrupted several times by Specter, who told him to let Roberts speak.
The nominee dismissed any suggestion that his Catholic faith would influence his decisions if he were confirmed, bringing the number of Catholics on the court to a historic high of four. The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes abortion.
"There's nothing in my personal views based on faith or other sources that would prevent me from applying the precedent of the court faithfully under the principles of stare decisis," Roberts said.
Stare decisis is Latin for "to stand by a decision" and legally translates into the doctrine that says courts are bound by previous decisions, or precedents, particularly when a case has been decided by a higher court.
Questioned about rights of privacy, the appellate judge cited several amendments in the Bill of Rights and said, "The court has explained that the liberty protected is not limited to freedom from physical restraint."
On other issues:
-Roberts rejected the notion of finding precedent in foreign law. In ruling on the use of the death penalty against minors, the Supreme Court this year noted the standards and rules of other nations. Roberts said that sort of citation expands the discretion of a jurist, and "that's a misuse of precedent, not a correct use of precedent."
-Roberts said the Constitution specifically gives the power to declare war to Congress, and in response to questions about interrogation and torture, said, "No one is above the law and that includes the president."
-The nominee rejected terms such as originalist and constructionist. "When pressed I prefer to be known as a modest judge."
-Roberts said he never turned down a request for pro bono work while in private practice, including a case on gay rights. "I think it's right that if there had been something morally objectionable, I suppose I would have."
In 1992, Rehnquist wanted to use the Casey case to overturn Roe, but he was stymied by moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a bitter dissent then, and is likely to push the court to revisit the issue.
Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said anti-abortion activists weren't surprised by Roberts' comments but would watch him closely.
"We're concerned about these statements, but the proof will come when it's time for him to rule on these cases as a justice," Newman said.
Abortion rights groups found little comfort in Roberts' answers. "John Roberts failed to state whether he believes the right to privacy includes a woman's right to choose as recognized in Roe v. Wade," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Roberts' opponents complained that he was ducking specific questions - as they had expected.
"He's obviously playing a game of dodgeball," said Ralph Neas, head of the liberal People of the American Way.