Calming words for Roberts’ nomination: He’s a "non-activist judge’
WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee John Roberts gained ground Thursday in his drive for Senate confirmation. He was rated a “non-activist judge, which everyone is looking for,” by the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was praised by several centrist Democrats.”I’m enjoying my visits here in the Senate very much,” said the 50-year-old appeals court judge, named to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.As well he might.On the second day of a White House-choreographed confirmation campaign, Roberts had yet to draw the public opposition of a single Senate Democrat. Talk of a filibuster and partisan political brawl over the first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years was nonexistent.Democrats intend to use confirmation hearings later this summer to question Roberts on his views on abortion, the overturning of court precedent, invalidating acts of Congress and more. A separate struggle awaits if, as expected, they seek access to internal Justice Department memos from his days as a government attorney.On a second day of courtesy calls in the Senate, Roberts’ schedule included Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York, two of the three Democrats who opposed his nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago.Schumer said he gave Roberts a list of more than 70 questions and told him to “be prepared to answer them in the best way he can” when the hearings begin.Some were broadly written, such as, “Is it appropriate for the Supreme Court to overturn a well-settled precedent, upon which Americans have come to rely?”Others sought the nominee’s opinion about well-known and controversial decisions of the past, such as, “Do you believe that Roe v. Wade … was correctly decided? What is your view of the quality of the legal reasoning in that case? Do you believe that it reached the right result.” Roe. v. Wade is the landmark 1973 case that established a woman’s right to an abortion.After spending an hour with Roberts on Wednesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday, “I think we have a man, I would interpret it, who is a non-activist judge, which everybody is looking for. Both sides are looking for a non-activist judge.”Specter, R-Pa., said Roberts had told him he didn’t prefer labels such as liberal or conservative and “his view was that the court ought to be modest. … The other word which he used which I thought was important was an emphasis on stability. When you talk about a modest approach by a court and an approach on stability, I think you have critical ingredients of a judge who would be non-activist.”Specter’s remarks suggested he did not believe Roberts would inject personal views into his judicial rulings, a comment of potential political significance coming from a senior Republican who has long supported abortion rights.It marked the second time in two days that Roberts’ nomination was boosted by Republican senators known for reaching across party lines. On Wednesday, John McCain, R-Ariz., said Roberts did not meet the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” that would justify a filibuster under a compromise worked out by 14 senators earlier this spring.While Senate Democrats generally have declined to express positions on Roberts’ nomination, there were expressions of praise from some among the group involved in this spring’s compromise.Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said Bush had made a “wise choice.” Said Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, “So far, so good.”Some abortion rights organizations have announced their opposition, expressing fears Roberts will become part of a court majority that first erodes and eventually overturns the historic 1973 ruling.NARAL Pro-Choice America has cited a legal brief he co-authored for a Supreme Court case while serving as deputy solicitor general in the Reagan administration. “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.Specter, too, said he intended to pursue the issue.”Now I don’t know if that means it’s settled for a circuit judge or if it’s settled generally, but I intend to look at that,” he said. The Pennsylvanian added, though, that he would not ask Roberts whether he would vote to sustain the 1973 ruling if the nominee became a justice.At the same 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.The nervousness about Roberts among abortion rights groups has been fueled by his resume. He served in two Republican administrations and was appointed to the appeals court two years ago by Bush. Women’s groups aligned with Democrats also point to comments from conservative activists who have praised Roberts’ selection.There is little in Roberts’ record to guide partisans on either side of the abortion record.Even before Bush publicly announced his selection, the White House has worked to assure abortion opponents and other conservatives that he would fulfill their hopes. These activists appear to be acting in part on political faith, however, choosing to accept reassurances from the White House and intermediaries who know Roberts and have vouched for him.