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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Court Nominee Says His Record Shows He Is No Ideologue - New York Times

Court Nominee Says His Record Shows He Is No Ideologue - New York TimesSeptember 15, 2005
Court Nominee Says His Record Shows He Is No Ideologue

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 - Judge John G. Roberts Jr., the prospective chief justice of the United States, tried today to win over wary Senate Democrats who questioned the depth of his commitment to minority rights and to candor.

Judge Roberts told an apparently skeptical Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts that he did indeed believe in affirmative action, as demonstrated in part by his work as a private lawyer to guide minority students through the rigors of law school

"Senator, there's a great deal in my background that you could look to in that respect," Judge Roberts said. He said that, as a lawyer, he had argued for both sides in affirmative action issues. Nor should his work as a lawyer in the Reagan administration be interpreted as signaling a lukewarm attitude to affirmative action, he said.

"Yes," Judge Roberts said, "I was in an administration that was opposed to quotas." But that did not equate to opposition to affirmative action, the judge emphasized.

"Do you believe that we have the authority and the power to pass legislation to free ourselves from the stains of racial discrimination?" Mr. Kennedy asked at one point.

"Yes," the nominee replied.

But some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee complained that Judge Roberts, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and would succeed William H. Rehnquist if confirmed, had not been forthcoming enough.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said that, while many of his answers sounded good, further review showed that "there was less than met the ear."

"What kind of justice will John Roberts be?" Mr. Schumer asked, implying that the nominee's answers had not shone enough light on that question.

The answer, Judge Roberts said, can be found by looking at "what kind of judge I've been." Any objective study of his opinions will show that "these are not the opinions of an ideologue," the judge said.

Judge Roberts finished his testimony today. The committee next began to hear from about 30 witnesses representing the American Bar Association and both political parties.

The witnesses offered such differing perspectives that they could almost have been talking about two different men, or lawyers.

Stephen L. Tober of Portsmouth, N.H., the chairman of the American Bar Association's standing committee on the federal judiciary, said the candidate "meets the highest standards."

"He has the admiration and respect of his colleagues on and off the bench," Mr. Tober said. "And he is, we have found, the very definition of collegial."

But Reginald M. Turner Jr., the president of the National Bar Association, which represents some 20,000 black lawyers, said the nominee's record was not only "complex and troubling" but incomplete, because Judge Roberts's backers had withheld some paperwork that might have illuminated his views. For those reasons, Mr. Turner said, his organization could not support the nominee.

A Utah state court judge, Denise Lindberg, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said Judge Roberts's "honesty, fairness and decency," as well as his formidable intellect, would make him a superb chief justice, able to bring some consensus to a divided court.

But Ann Marie Tallman, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the nominee had made "insensitive and dismissive remarks" about members of minority groups while working in the Reagan administration, and that some of his views, if enacted into law, would subtract from the rights of immigrants.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the committee, said he hopes to conclude the proceedings this evening. The committee is expected to vote on the nomination next Thursday and, since Republicans have a 10-to-8 majority on the panel and 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, Judge Roberts's prospects look good when the full Senate votes, probably on Sept. 26.

But some Democrats have clearly not been won over.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Senator Dianne Feinstein of California told the nominee. Senator Feinstein voted for Judge Roberts two years ago, when he was confirmed to the appeals court. But given the nominee's youth (he is 50) and the likelihood that he could be chief justice for decades, "my vote means more now," the senator said.

Judge Roberts has voiced great admiration for William Rehnquist, for whom he was once a clerk. But in an exchange today with Senator Kennedy, he also expressed deep respect for Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose judicial philosophy was far to the left of Chief Justice Rehnquist's.

"He appreciated the impact the decision in Brown would have," Judge Roberts said, alluding to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954 that outlawed segregation in public schools.

Judge Roberts recalled that Chief Justice Warren so appreciated the Brown case's effect on "real people and real lives" that he thought it vital to obtain a unanimous ruling in the case and, through patience and collegial discussions, he did.

The nominee said, in a back-and-forth with Senator Feinstein, that he did not always side with corporations in cases involving workers' rights. A review of his Court of Appeals decisions would demonstrate that, he said.

While not saying how she will vote, Senator Feinstein did indicate a personal liking for the nominee. "You did let a little bit of a man come through," she said. "Thank you very much."

But the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, made it clear, albeit good-naturedly, that he wished the nominee had revealed more.

"Judge, you're really going to miss us, aren't you?" Mr. Leahy asked.

When Judge Roberts just chuckled, Mr. Leahy said, "You're not even going to answer that one, are you?"

"Well," the judge said finally, "it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Senator."

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