President Bush's nominee to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is vowing to keep an open mind if confirmed by the Senate. Judge John Roberts made his comments on the first day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a brief opening statement, Judge Roberts said he has no agenda for the Supreme Court:
"If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench, and I will decide every case based on the record, according the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability," said Mr. Roberts.
Judge Roberts' comments concluded a day of opening statements by members of the Judiciary Committee.
Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, used the opportunity to criticize the Supreme Court for overturning laws passed by Congress:
"I am concerned about what I bluntly say is the denigration by the court of congressional authority," said Mr. Specter.
Senators are to begin questioning Judge Roberts Tuesday. Democrats, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, are particularly interested in knowing the nominee's views on abortion and civil rights issues.
"This committee and the full Senate must determine whether you have demonstrated a commitment to the constitutional principles that have been so vital in advancing fairness, decency and equal opportunity in our society," said Mr. Kennedy. "We have only one chance to get it right, and a solemn obligation to do so."
Republicans, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas, are warning Judge Roberts about answering some of the Democrats' questions, because that could force the nominee to prejudge cases that may come before the high court.
"You have no obligation to tell us how you would rule on any issue that might come before you if you are confirmed to the Supreme Court," said Mr. Cornyn.
If confirmed, Judge Roberts, 50, who has served as an appeals court judge for the past two years, could play a key role in shaping the direction of the high court for years to come. Supreme Court justices serve for life.
Democrats acknowledge that they have not found anything in Judge Roberts' record that would derail his nomination. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he expects the nominee to be confirmed by the full Senate before the high court opens its new session October 3rd.
Judge Roberts initially had been nominated by President Bush to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but was elevated to chief justice nominee with the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist earlier this month.