Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Senate Judiciary Committee v. John G. Roberts Jr. (2005)

Or, what's abortion got to do with it?

Suffice it to say, Roberts is a really, really good lawyer. On Tuesday, his Senate confirmation hearings really got going, with Democrats challenging him on a number of contentious issues, including (of course) abortion. But he wouldn't budge:

"I think nominees have to draw the line where they are most comfortable," said Roberts, who also sidestepped questions about civil rights, voting rights and the limits of presidential power in a long, occasionally antagonistic day in the witness chair.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said past Supreme Court rulings carry weight, including the Roe v. Wade
decision that legalized abortion in 1973. But he quickly balanced that by adding that the same principle allows for overturning rulings, as well.

Over and over, he assured lawmakers he would be guided by his understanding of the facts of cases, the law and the Constitution, not by his personal views.

As I've said before (at both The Reaction (here and here) and The Moderate Voice (here)), I just don't see any "extraordinary circumstances" here. He's too conservative for my liking (but what possible Bush nominee wouldn't be?), but I'm not necessarily opposed to his confirmation, and, indeed, he may very well turn out to be a fine chief justice (assuming his modesty, respect for precedent, and appreciation for judicial restraint are all sincere). And, again, I say this as someone who would prefer a more liberal Supreme Court.


For more on Roberts and abortion, see here. "[I]t is certainly true, I think, that abortion's hold on the American political (if not judicial) mind -- and, more specifically, on the minds of those of us who are paying attention to the Roberts nomination -- is disproportionately high... This is not to say that abortion isn't an important issue, nor that Roberts's (or any other candidate's or nominee's) views on abortion shouldn't be considered. But the centrality of abortion in American political life does need to be reconsidered, especially when we're talking about the Supreme Court. It's simply not the most illuminating issue."


For more on Roberts's confirmation hearings, see this excellent article in the Times:

His face never scowled. His level tone seldom varied. He answered questions he found useful to his cause and avoided those he did not. Above all, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. explained his views and defended his honor with the force and fluidity of an advocate who has argued often before tougher judges than those he faced on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

But as he parried a sympathetic Republican's question about how careful the Supreme Court should be in overturning an act of Congress, 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."

His job this week is to persuade a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 senators to vote for him, and under hours of relentless and sometimes hostile questioning, Judge Roberts never lost sight of that goal. 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.

Read on. It's interesting stuff, and there's still a long way to go.

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  • I commented on the importance of abortion here once before and will do so again.
    Abortion is an illuminating issue because it is one that has far more personalized consequences for a larger segment of the population than many other topics that go before the supreme court.
    Whether one should stand during the pledge of allegiance, for example, might affect everyone, but its consequences are simply an inconvenience, whatever its philsophical backing in rights and freedoms are. Many cases will never have an immediate and visible effect on existence.
    The inability to obtain an abortion will change someone's life permanently (and, according to some, having an abortion ends a life permanently). Nearly everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. While in terms of constitutional rights and philsophy, this isn't necessarily a meaty topic, it is one of the few things decisions that has the potential to impact us immediately and personally.
    I think you make a mistake everytime you state that abortion is not an illuminating issue.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 AM  

  • Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that abortion is an unimportant issue. It is, and there's a reason why is spawns so much passion on both sides of the divide (one wishes moderates on abortion could be more passionate about finding a compromise). It's certainly more important than the pledge of allegiance or school prayer or any of those other cultural issues.

    What I'm saying is that it shouldn't be the only issue, and certainly not the only issue to be considered during judicial confirmation hearings. Even if, say, Roberts were on the "right" side of the abortion debate, whatever side that is, aren't his views on police powers, civil rights, and the environment also important, also illuminating?

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:12 AM  

  • Police powers -- we all cry abuse when we see something like Rodney King on television -- but how many people will also secretly say to themselves, well, the guy deserved to be beaten up because he is a criminal and a crack head. Police powers look bad and scary, but most people assume they will never be on the wrong side of the law.
    Civil Rights -- I think that many people take a "well, these don't really concern me" attitude towards much of this or think that they will never cross the boundaries where they will feel as though their civil rights have been threatened or curtailed (which is of course not true).
    Enviornment -- again, I think many people don't worry about the enviornment, other than to pay it a lipservice and then reduce-reuse-recycle only when immeidately convenient.
    As a politician, I would try to make my choices concerning supreme court nominees as favorable to my constituency as possible. And since people disassociate themselves from issues that are not of immediate personal concern, the only one I think most of my constituency can relate to is abortion. I think people want to have a justice who is in alignment with the one issue that is most likely to have an immediate personal effect. They reject everything else of ambiguous personal signifiance.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:02 PM  

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