Video: 20 questions

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/5/2005 7:34:46 PM ET 2005-07-05T23:34:46

WASHINGTON — When the Supreme Court nominee faces a showdown with the U.S. Senate, Democrats say general Q&A about judicial philosophy won't do. A marker was laid down again Tuesday: They want specifics.

"I think that person's views on environmental rights, on voting rights, on civil rights, on women's rights — this is the most important appointment that a president can make," says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

But in the past, Democrats allowed President Clinton's nominees to be responsive without being too specific. It worked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.

"If you were to pick a role model on the court, living or dead, what role model or composite role model would it be?" asked Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

"I will stay away from the living," replied Bader Ginsburg.

Stephen Breyer, another Clinton nominee, took the same approach a year later.

"The questions that you're putting to me are matters of how that basic right applies, where it applies, under what circumtances," said Breyer in response to Sen. Strom Thurmond's, R-S.C., question about Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision. "And I don't think I should go into those, for the reason that those are likely to be the subject of litigation in front of the court."

But a legal scholar who has studied past confirmations says this time will be different because pressure groups have spent years doing homework on the very nominees the president is considering.

"They've been very aggressive," says professor Artemus Ward at Northern Illinois University. "This is unprecedented. We haven't seen anything like this, even during the Bork and Thomas hearings. We haven't seen anything like this. So this is quite new."

Even so, Democrats say spirited fighting over nominees goes back to George Washington's day, when the Senate rejected one of his nominees for chief justice, John Rutlege — a man who was so despondent over it, he attempted suicide.

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