TV & Radio
The New York Times
September 4, 2005
Quizzing Judge Roberts
One Supreme Court justice can make a huge difference in what kind of nation America is. Consider Sandra Day O'Connor, who in a series of 5-to-4 decisions cast the deciding vote holding: (1) that the federal government has broad power under the Clean Air Act to fight air pollution; (2) that states cannot impose new restrictions on abortion rights; (3) that courthouses cannot post the Ten Commandments; and (4) that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is constitutional. John Roberts, the appeals court judge who is President Bush's nominee to replace Justice O'Connor, could have an equally powerful influence. As far as we know right now, he could wipe away all of these rulings and many more.
Judge Roberts's confirmation hearings begin this week. No one disputes that he is an accomplished lawyer, but the Senate and the country need to know a great deal more. While the nominee cannot be expected to announce in advance how he would vote on any given case, the Senate has a duty to scrutinize his views on important legal questions, and determine whether - given the critical role Justice O'Connor has played in upholding fundamental rights - he would be the kind of justice the nation needs right now.
That will take work. Judge Roberts's record as a judge is thin, and much of his legal career occurred behind the scenes. The Bush administration has refused to hand over many of the documents he prepared as a government lawyer, which would shed light on his legal thinking. Inexplicably, at least one file of documents that could have helped clarify his views on affirmative action went missing after being reviewed by Bush administration lawyers.
At the hearings, senators should ask Judge Roberts tough questions about a number of key issues:
Privacy and Abortion Rights Judge Roberts once wrote that abortion rights are based on a "so-called 'right to privacy,' " and as a lawyer he helped write a brief that argued that Roe v. Wade should be reversed. The right to privacy is the basis not only for Roe, but also for Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 decision in which the Supreme Court struck down state laws that made the sale of contraceptives illegal. Does Judge Roberts believe in a constitutional right to privacy, and does he agree with Roe and Griswold?
Congressional Power Judge Roberts appears to be sympathetic to a far-right "federalism" campaign that seeks to restrict Congress's power to pass laws that protect the environment, keep workplaces safe and prevent discrimination. He wrote an opinion in a case involving the Endangered Species Act that is particularly troubling in this regard. Does he believe Congressional power should be reduced, and if so, in what ways?
Civil Rights In the Reagan administration, Judge Roberts fought for a very narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that would have made it harder for blacks to be elected to office. He has been dismissive of other important civil rights protections, and may oppose most or all forms of affirmative action. What are Judge Roberts's views on civil rights, including affirmative action?
Church-State Separation As a government lawyer, Judge Roberts advocated allowing school prayer at school ceremonies, a position Justice O'Connor opposed. He has also given other indications that he might favor greatly weakening the wall between church and state. How far would Judge Roberts go in allowing prayer and religious symbols in schools and on government property, and what limits does he feel the Constitution puts on direct public aid to religious activities?
Judge Roberts's supporters are doing their best to make his confirmation appear to be a sure thing. They have been pushing for a quick vote - even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - and they are criticizing Democrats' insistence that the Senate should get all of the relevant documents from Judge Roberts's government service. But the only responsible way to proceed on a Supreme Court nomination is with deliberation. If he is confirmed, Judge Roberts will help define Americans' rights for decades to come. The burden is on Judge Roberts to show that he is the right person for this monumentally important job.
by alfayoko2005 | 2005-09-04 13:45