Judge John Roberts, nominated to replace William Rehnquist as US Chief justice, has been strongly attacked by the left wing of the Democratic party, writes Peter Westmore.
Judge John Roberts – originally nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on her retirement from the US Supreme Court, but now nominated to replace William Rehnquist as Chief Justice – has impressed people at his confirmation hearings in the US Senate.
The appointment will be the most momentous for decades, although by itself, it is unlikely to change the complexion of the Supreme Court, which has had a narrow majority of judicial activists for the past 20 years.
If confirmed, the 50-year-old Judge Roberts would be the youngest Chief Justice in 200 years, with the power to influence the court for decades. Most Democrats and Republicans see no major obstacles to his winning Senate approval and joining the other justices when the new judicial term begins on October 3.
Judge Roberts has outstanding credentials as a supporter of the federal system, who believes that it is the role of judges to interpret the law – whether they like it or not – rather than to make the law.
Not surprisingly, he has been strongly attacked by the left wing of the Democratic Party, but the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, which must confirm the appointment.
Judge Roberts impressed even cynical observers. The New York Times said, “He listened. He smiled. He nodded. He spoke of the power of precedent and the importance of humility, using plain language with senators who sometimes got tangled in legal shorthand, jargon and precedents.”
It added, “Judge Roberts also acknowledged a political reality that hung over his confirmation hearings: ‘All judges are acutely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people have voted for you and not one has voted for any of us’.”
In the course of the confirmation hearings, senators raised Judge Roberts’ views on life issues, in light of the contentious Roe v. Wade decision which legalised abortion, and the recent Terri Schiavo case, where a brain-damaged woman was let die.
Judge Roberts was attacked by some Senate Democrats during the confirmation hearings.
When some Democrat senators pressed for details on his opinions – even to the point of interrupting his answers – Judge 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, Senator Joe Biden, who has indicated he may run for president in 2008, accused Roberts of “filibustering”.
“Go ahead and continue not to answer,” said Senator Biden. Later, he interrupted Judge Roberts and, when criticised, insisted, “His answers are misleading, with all due respect.”
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.
While stating that the abortion judgement 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), Judge Roberts added that review and revisions have been the hallmark of the Supreme Court on issues from integration to gay rights, and 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,” he said.
The Family Research Council, a pro-family think tank in Washington, supported the Judge.
Cathy Cleaver Ruse, the Family Research Council’s senior legal fellow, said:
“Judge John Roberts is to be congratulated on a masterful beginning to his week of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats, Judge Roberts showed the world why he has the makings of an exemplary Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“I served formerly as the chief counsel to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and I was particularly impressed with how clearly and eloquently Judge Roberts articulated the appropriate role of the judiciary within the constitutional framework of separation of powers. This morning’s testimony can be used in law school classes on how to understand constitutional issues and the role of the judiciary in our system of government.”
She observed that, on several occasions, Judge Roberts had refused to answer questions calling him to pre-judge possible future cases. She said:
“Specifically, we were pleased with Judge Roberts’ answers about Roe v. Wade.
“Judge Roberts refused to give hints or projections about how he might evaluate a future abortion case before the Court, but carefully stated what the law is on the matter of stare decisis and repeatedly pledged to follow the rule of law. Also, in questions about the issue of privacy, Judge Roberts explained that the Constitution in numerous areas addresses protections for privacy.”
- Peter Westmore