Senate Begins Roberts Confirmation Hearings

9-12-05 - With the bang of a gavel, the Senate opened confirmation hearings Monday on the chief justice nomination of John Roberts, a young conservative who could shape the Supreme Court for a generation.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, underscored the stakes in the Senate's vote on the 50-year-old Roberts, President Bush's choice to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist.

"If confirmed, Judge Roberts will become our nation's highest ranking judicial officer with the extraordinary opportunity to lead the Supreme Court and guide the administration of justice in America for decades," said Specter.

The journey began for Roberts in the ornate Russell Senate Caucus Room, where he quietly sat and watched as Specter gaveled the hearing to order. The day was devoted solely to opening statements _ from the 17 men and one woman on the committee, the three senators chosen to introduce Roberts and the nominee himself.

Roberts introduced members of his family: parents, siblings, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, and his young children, Jack and Josie.

"You see she has a very tight grasp," Roberts said of his wife, who held the two children. An ebullient Jack Roberts had nearly upstaged his father when the president announced his nomination on July 19.

Roberts was not expected to speak until late in the afternoon. The majority of the day was to be taken up by the Judiciary senators giving Roberts advice on how he should handle himself during the hearings, and previewing the questions they expected him to answer before getting their vote in the committee and on the Senate floor.

The journey began for Roberts in the ornate Russell Senate Caucus Room, witness to history from the Army-McCarthy hearings to Watergate to Justice Clarence Thomas' nomination. The day was devoted solely to opening statements _ from the 17 men and one woman on the committee, the three senators tapped to introduce Roberts and the nominee himself.

Roberts was not expected to speak until late in the afternoon. The majority of the day was to be taken up by the Judiciary senators giving Roberts advice on how he should handle himself during the hearings, and previewing the questions they expected him to answer before getting their vote in the committee and on the Senate floor.

Democrats promised to use the days of hearings to question Roberts on abortion, civil rights, privacy, election rights, capital punishment, judicial activism and the powers of the presidency and Congress.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said the Senate must determine whether Roberts "has demonstrated a commitment to the constitutional principles that have been so vital in advancing fairness, decency and equal opportunity in our society."

Republicans warned Roberts against responding to "litmus-test questions."

"Don't take the bait," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in his prepared statement. "Do exactly the same thing every nominee, Republican and Democrat alike, has done. Decline to answer any question you feel would compromise your ability to do your job. The vast majority of the Senate, I am convinced, will not punish you for doing so."

Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin dismissed the notion that Republican calls for a dignified confirmation process barred senators from asking questions on controversial topics.

"If by dignified they mean that tough questions are out of bounds, I must strongly disagree," Feingold said.

Abortion and the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized the procedure loomed large.

"The contentious debate since 1973 over the culture of life has proven that the American public, the democratic process and ultimately the federal judiciary itself have been poorly served by the Supreme Court's breathtaking intervention into and circumvention of the public debate about abortion," said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.


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