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Roberts quizzed on abortion rights
Tue Sep 13, 2005 08:32 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice nominee John Roberts declined to say on Tuesday if he would reverse the long-standing decision legalizing abortion but said he believed the Constitution accorded Americans the right to privacy, the key underpinning of the landmark ruling.
Roberts, a conservative appeals court judge, told the Senate Judiciary Committee considering his nomination to lead the U.S. Supreme Court that he respects legal precedent, which includes the 1973 high court decision, Roe v. Wade, that made abortion lawful.
But, noting the precedent of other Supreme Court nominees in declining to prejudge cases that may come before them, he would not say if he favored reversing the ruling.
"I feel the need to stay away from a discussion of particular cases," Roberts told committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, during his first questioning by the Senate panel considering his nomination.
Pressing him, Specter asked: "But there's no doctrinal basis erosion in Roe, is there?"
Roberts, President George W. Bush's nominee to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, said: "While I'm happy to talk about ... the importance of precedent, I don't think I should get into the application of those principles in a particular area."
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Discussing a memo he wrote two decades ago in the Reagan administration in which he referred to the "so-called 'right to privacy,"' Roberts was asked if he believed the Constitution protected privacy rights.
"I do. The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways," he told Specter, who has been criticized by conservatives for his support of abortion rights.
Roberts was also grilled on civil rights, women's rights and other hot-button issues. The hearing was recessed on Tuesday night and was to resume on Wednesday morning.
Displaying the skills that made him one of the nation's top lawyers, Roberts appeared headed toward confirmation by the full Republican-led Senate, perhaps by the time the high court begins its new term on October 3.
While Democrats, at times heatedly, challenged Roberts, a number of Republicans on the committee praised him, noting he had received the American Bar Association's top rating for a seat on the high court.
Specter intends to complete the hearing this week, and send a recommendation by his 18-member committee -- 10 Republicans and eight Democrats -- to the full Senate next week.
If confirmed, Roberts, 50, would be the youngest chief justice in two centuries. He would be positioned to lead the court for decades.
A bigger fight was anticipated for Bush's next nominee, who would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who was often the swing vote on the sharply divided nine-member court.
Roberts was asked if he would like to see Bush replace O'Connor with another woman. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment in any way about the president's future selections other than to say that I'm happy with his past ones," he said, drawing laughter.
On the abortion issue, Roberts, a Roman Catholic, said he agreed with a comment by John Kennedy in his 1960 presidential campaign that his church did not speak for him. The Catholic Church opposes abortion.
Several senators questioned Roberts about abortion rights. But the nominee refused to stake out a position, other than to say: "I would confront issues in this area, as any other area, with an open mind in light of the arguments, in light of the record ...."
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, challenged Roberts on civil rights. He cited memos stemming from Roberts' work in the Reagan administration that Kennedy said urged a narrow application of civil rights laws.
Roberts responded by voicing support for civil rights, and arguing that the Reagan administration backed extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, though not the way the U.S. Congress favored in bid to strengthen it.
"It was my job to articulate the administration policy," Roberts said.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California read from a number of Roberts' memos, which she said could be construed as dismissive of women.
Roberts rejected that, saying: "I have always supported and support today equal rights for women, particularly in the workplace."
by alfayoko2005 | 2005-09-14 10:20