Roberts says he will respect established rulings; abortion rights groups skeptical |

Roberts says he will respect established rulings; abortion rights groups skeptical

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – John Roberts says he will honor established Supreme Court rulings, telling a Senate committee that legal precedents are important to “promoting the stability of the legal system.”Liberal interest groups quickly criticized the high court nominee for failing to state whether he would uphold the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision.In responses to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, the 50-year-old federal appeals court judge addressed a wide array of questions, from his financial holdings and work history to political ties and judicial philosophy. In particular, the survey offered Roberts’ most current views on “judicial activism,” an area critical to gauging his stance on the 1973 Roe decision.”It is difficult to comment on either ‘judicial activism’ or ‘judicial restraint’ in the abstract, without reference to the particular facts and applicable law of a specific case,” Roberts writes in the 84-page disclosure, which the committee released late Tuesday.”Precedent plays an important role in promoting the stability of the legal system,” he added. “A sound judicial philosophy should reflect recognition of the fact that the judge operates within a system of rules developed over the years by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”At the same time, Roberts said that “judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited.””They do not have a commission to solve society’s problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law,” he wrote to the committee, which will begin considering Roberts’ nomination on Sept. 6.The Supreme Court is closely divided on the issue of abortion rights and other social issues, with retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, the justice whom President Bush selected Roberts to replace, often providing the swing vote. While previous court nominees have typically refrained from commenting specifically on Roe, liberal groups say the stakes are now too high to ignore.”John Roberts’ lawyerly answers fall far short of the candor the American people expect,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which opposes Roberts’ nomination. “Even anti-choice Justices Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist respect precedent, but that hasn’t stopped them from explicitly saying they want to overturn Roe v. Wade.”In the questionnaire, Roberts said he would be “fully open” to the views of the other eight justices on the court, and approach cases as a “thoughtful skeptic,” avoiding a firm stance without first fully reading the briefs, questioning the lawyers and paying attention to precedent.Although their role in deciding major social issues of the day should be “limited,” justices are fully within their power to overturn acts of Congress and the president if those branches overstep their authority. “It is not judicial activism when the courts carry out their constitutionally-assigned function,” Roberts wrote.Some legal experts said Roberts’ statements were noteworthy for striking a careful balance.”There’s something for both camps,” said David Garrow, a Supreme Court historian at Emory University. “He is repeatedly pledging personal modesty and humility with regard to believing he has the right answer, but at the same time expressing a firm and forceful view of an independent judiciary.”As to Roe, Roberts’ disclosure offers “no clear signal,” Garrow said.Roberts worked in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush, during which time he co-wrote a legal brief for the administration arguing that Roe should be overruled. He then entered private practice before becoming an appellate judge in 2003.In response to a question about his memberships, Roberts said he does not recall ever being a member of the conservative Federalist Society, although he participated in events including a 1993 panel and gave a luncheon speech to the legal group in 2003.”According to recent press reports, in 1997 I was listed in brochures as a member of the Washington Lawyers Steering Committee,” Roberts wrote. “I have no recollection of serving on that committee, or being a member of the society.”Detailing his political ties, Roberts said he spent about a week assisting Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the disputed presidential election count in 2000.He said he went to Florida at the request of GOP lawyers, assisting an attorney who was preparing arguments for the Florida Supreme Court and at one point meeting the governor, President Bush’s younger brother, to discuss the legal issues “in a general way.””My recollection is that I stayed less than one week,” Roberts wrote.Other political affiliations Roberts listed were the executive committee of the D.C. Lawyers for Bush-Quayle in 1988, Lawyers for Bush-Cheney and the Republican National Lawyers Association.Responding to a question about his experience in the judicial selection process, Roberts wrote that he was interviewed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as early as April 1. At that time, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was at the center of retirement speculation because of his thyroid cancer.Besides Bush, Roberts reported having discussions with Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Andrew Card. To the question whether if any of them asked about his specific legal views or positions on cases, Roberts gave a one-word reply: “No.”The responses also show Roberts is worth about $5.3 million, with sizable stock investments, a golf club membership and home in Chevy Chase, Md., worth $1.3 million. His portfolio includes $291,200 in XM Satellite Radio, $264,000 in Dell computers and $106,553 in Texas Instruments.—On the Net: White House site: http://www.whitehouse.govVail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism