IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Amid glory, Roberts feels tension in Senate

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts drew warm praise from a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by a prod from a Democrat on the panel to be “forthcoming and honest.”
Supreme Court nominee John Roberts talks with Senator Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, right, outside the U.S Capitol building July 21, 2005 in Washington. Schumer is one of many senators Roberts has met with in preparation for his nomination. Lawrence Jackson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts drew warm praise from a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, followed by a prod from a Democrat on the panel to be as “forthcoming and honest” as possible at confirmation hearings later this summer.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who opposed Roberts’ confirmation for his current federal appeals court position in 2003, said he did so because he was dissatisfied with his responsiveness to questions. “If he is open and honest I think it will go a long way” toward a good hearing, Durbin said.

Roberts’ meeting with Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, came after a sit-down with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who won his seat last fall.

“My litmus test is, do they believe in the limited role of the court in terms of following and interpreting the constitution and not making policy,” Coburn said. “And I’m convinced right now that he is interested in limiting their decisions to what constitutionally they’re supposed to do.”

Coburn said after his meeting with Roberts that he would have preferred a nominee who would reverse Roe v. Wade, but said it was “more critical to get someone “who’s on the side of the Constitution and its strict interpretation.”

Roberts paid courtesy calls on leading senators for a third straight day as President Bush renewed his call for a confirmation vote before the Supreme Court begins a new term on Oct. 3.

Bush: Give Roberts a ‘fair hearing’
“I urge senators from both political parties to rise above needless partisanship and give this good man a fair hearing and a vote as quickly as possible so he can be seated on the bench prior to the reconvening of the Supreme Court” the president said in Atlanta.

No dates have been set for Judiciary Committee hearings on Bush’s pick to fill the first vacancy on the high court in 11 years. They are expected to be held in late August or early September.

Within two days of Bush’s announcement of his choice of Roberts, several Democrats said they doubted that their party would try to filibuster his confirmation. But many in the party said at the same time that not enough is known about the federal appellate court judge and former official in the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration.

Democrats will scour documents on Roberts
Democrats will search for documents in their efforts to learn more about how Roberts would comport himself on the high court, characterized in these times by its delicate power balance among conservatives, moderates and liberals.

Democrats, indeed, stalled two of Bush’s high-profile nominees by demanding documents the White House did not want to provide about John Bolton and Miguel Estrada. It is not clear what senators would do should the administration deny them information from similar requests involving Roberts.

“Hopefully they won’t ask for things they shouldn’t, and hopefully the administration won’t withhold the things they shouldn’t,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Roberts has gotten some glowing reviews after his first two days of glad-handing on Capitol Hill.

Roberts is “a nonactivist judge, which everyone is looking for,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Added a former chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: “He’s the type of guy you’d want to live next door to.”

Some of the 14 senators — seven from each party — who halted filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees also praised Roberts.

That means a Democratic blockade is unlikely of his ascension to the high court to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor.

Nelson said Bush had made a “wise choice.” Said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., “So far, so good.”

Roberts, said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., is “a credible nominee, and not one that — as far as we know now — has a record that in any sense could be described as extremist.”

But a sticking point could be Roberts’ work as a lawyer in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Blocked nominations in the past
Democrats have used requests for documents as a way to block the nominations of Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Estrada, who withdrew as a candidate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democrats were able to sustain filibusters on Bolton and Estrada after the Bush administration refused to turn over the requested documents.

No Democrat has yet suggested filibustering Roberts. But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who voted in committee against Roberts’ nomination to be a federal appeals court judge, brought up the document situation during their Thursday meeting and shifted responsibility to the administration.

We “basically came to the conclusion he would defer to the client in that regard, so that decision will not be made by him — although he will be able to weigh in on it — but rather by the Justice Department or the White House,” Schumer told reporters.

Specter said he is already preparing for document questions from Democrats. “I’m not surprised if that will become an issue, but I’m going to wait until they talk to me about it,” he said.
There is little in Roberts’ record to guide partisans on either side of the abortion record.
But some abortion rights organizations have announced their opposition, expressing fears Roberts will become part of a court majority that first erodes and eventually overturns Roe v. Wade.

Abortion views under fire
NARAL Pro-Choice America has cited a legal brief he helped write for a Supreme Court case while serving as deputy solicitor general in the administration of the first President Bush. “Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled,” it said in part.

Asked about the legal filing, Roberts told senators during 2003 confirmation hearings to his current post that he would be guided by 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,” he said at the time.

An AP-Ipsos showed that 52 percent of all Americans — and 60 percent of women — want to know Roberts’ position on abortion before the Senate votes on his nomination.