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Senate Hearings for High Court Nominee Wrap Up Thursday


The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday is to hold a fourth and final day of hearings into the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States.

Members of the committee will conclude their questioning of Judge Roberts Thursday morning.

The panel will then hear from some 30 witnesses who will testify in support of, or in opposition to, the nomination.

Among them will be Steve Tober, chairman of the American Bar Association, which has given the nominee its highest ranking, well qualified. Another witness will be Karen Pearl, the interim president of Planned Parenthood, which has expressed concern that Judge Roberts would overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

During the hearings, Judge Roberts declined to say whether he would reverse the landmark decision, but he did say it was settled precedent.

On Wednesday, the nominee was asked about the controversial Supreme Court ruling that gives local governments the power to seize private property for commercial development. Without commenting on the case, Judge Roberts said Congress has the right to counter such a ruling with new legislation:

"If the legislature wants to draw the line in a particular place, it has that authority," Judge Roberts says.

On another issue, Judge Roberts said he would be guided by law, not personal beliefs, on cases involving a person's right to die.

"I will confront those issues in light of the court's precedence with an open mind," Judge Roberts says. "I will not take to the court whatever personal views I have on the issue."

Democrats pressed Judge Roberts for his views on a range of issues, but in many instances - as he did on Tuesday - the nominee refused to answer, saying he did not want to prejudge future cases that may come before the Supreme Court.

That frustrated Democrats, including Senator Joe Biden of Delaware:

"You've told me nothing, Judge," says Senator Biden.

Republicans praised the nominee, an appeals court judge, for his intellect and his calm demeanor under tough questioning. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah:

"If people cannot vote for you, then I doubt that they can vote for any Republican nominee," Mr. Hatch says.

The committee chairman, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, announced that the panel will vote on the nomination next week, with a full Senate vote on confirmation the last week of the month, just days before the start of the new court session October third.

If confirmed, Judge Roberts would succeed the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

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