WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he will not ask Supreme Court nominee John Roberts whether he would vote to overturn the landmark decision that legalized abortion.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., did say he planned to ask Roberts, the president’s pick to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist as chief justice, whether there is a right to privacy in the Constitution.
Roberts’ confirmation hearings before the committee were to begin Monday.
Specter said he was uncertain whether Roberts would favor overturning the Roe v. Wade decision from 1973 that established a right to abortion. Specter supports a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy.
“I think it is inappropriate to ask him head-on if he’s going to overturn Roe, but I believe that there are many issues close to the issue, like his respect for precedent,” Specter told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’ll get a better idea of his views, but I think at the end of the hearings he’s not going to take a definitive stand on that question,” the senator said.
He said people are not wrong to want to know Roberts’ views on abortion, “but a judge ought not to have to make commitments in advance as to how he’s going to decide cases or (if) it impinges on his judicial independence.”
Asking whether cases such as Roe or Bush v. Gore, which cleared the way for George W. Bush’s election victory in 2000, were decided properly would be too close to asking whether Roberts would vote to overrule a case, Specter said. Such questions “ask a little too much,” the senator said.
But Specter said asking Roberts, now an appeals court judge, whether the high court correctly found a right to privacy in the Constitution when rationalizing its abortion decision would be fair “and I intend to ask it.”
Specter said he plans to delve into matters such as the court’s powers and how they relate to Congress’ authority.
“I believe Republicans as well as Democrats have an obligation to find out about Judge Roberts’ jurisprudence. There ought not to be a political tilt,” he said.
Critical of court rulings that question the reasoning of Congress, Specter said he will ask Roberts what he thinks of those issues.
More women on court
Specter said he thinks Bush should choose a woman to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the court’s first female justice. The only other woman to serve on the high court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Bush had nominated Roberts to replace O’Connor, then picked Roberts to replace Rehnquist. The president has yet to name someone to succeed O’Connor.
“I think that we ought to have more women on the court. Two is a bare minimum. We really ought to have more,” Specter said.
“I don’t believe in a quota system. And it may be that at this particular time President Bush would like to have someone other than a woman, and I don’t think his hands ought to be tied,” he said.
Specter said he thought it was “a little too soon” for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to be nominated.
“He’s an able fellow, but we just went through a tough confirmation hearing, and my sense is that the national interest would be best served if he stayed in that job right now,” Specter said.
Some in the Republican Party have questioned Gonzales’ conservative credentials. He has been criticized by many liberals for decisions he has made as attorney general and for his role in administration policies while White House counsel.
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