updated 7/25/2005 9:34:18 PM ET 2005-07-26T01:34:18

Free legal work that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ wife does for an anti-abortion group should not be a factor in his confirmation, a Senate Republican leader said Monday, following up similar comments by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said Jane Roberts’ work for Feminists for Life is irrelevant to the process and to how her husband might decide cases if seated on the high court.

“My wife has opinions on things that may or may not conform with mine, and I think most couples are in that situation,” Santorum, a conservative who is third among Senate Republican leaders and an outspoken abortion opponent, told NBC’s “Today” show.

“And so I don’t think your wife’s activities should have any impact on what a judge is going to do,” he added. “I certainly would think that he would tell you they don’t, nor should they. It’s the facts of a case and the law of a case.”

Santorum, Kennedy in agreement
With those words, Santorum found himself agreeing with Kennedy, D-Mass., the liberal stalwart with whom he recently exchanged heated words on an unrelated topic.

On Friday, in response to a question during a breakfast meeting with reporters, Kennedy said Jane Roberts’ work “ought to be out of bounds.”

“I think she deserves a lot of credit,” added Kennedy, a Senate Judiciary Committee member who in 2003 voted against John Roberts’ nomination to the federal appeals court. The committee will hold hearings in the fall on Roberts’ nomination to the Supreme Court.

Representatives of groups that oppose Roberts also said he is the issue, not his wife.

Jane Roberts, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, was on the board of directors for Feminists for Life from 1995-1999. She currently does pro bono legal work for the organization, which its president said works to eliminate the pressures that lead women to choose abortion.

Jane Roberts also serves on the board of the John Carroll Society, a Catholic lay group that sponsors an annual Mass before the start of the Supreme Court’s new term, and is a member of the board of trustees of Holy Cross College, one of her alma maters.

“We really think that the issue is John Roberts’ record of opposition to a woman’s right to choose,” said David Seldin, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “He’s made it clear he can overturn Roe v. Wade all by himself. He doesn’t need his wife to help him do that.”

Questions on nominee’s positions
Some of the interest in Jane Roberts’ ties to Feminists for Life stems from the murkiness over her husband’s positions on some issues, particularly abortion.

As a deputy solicitor general in the administration of George H.W. Bush, John Roberts filed a brief with the Supreme Court in which he said Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to abortion, “was wrongly decided and should be overruled.”

But he told senators during his confirmation hearings in 2003 that he would follow legal precedent. “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.”

Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life and a friend of Jane Roberts, said Roberts’ wife’s work for the group shouldn’t matter.

“He stands alone for what he believes and what he does and what he thinks and will do, and this is the critical issue now,” Foster said.

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