Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have concluded their questioning of Judge John Roberts, President Bush's nominee to be Chief Justice of the United States. Democrats are criticizing the nominee for not being forthcoming enough about his views on a range of issues.
Despite two-and-a-half days of often tense questioning of Judge Roberts on abortion, civil rights, the death penalty and other matters, Democrats say they still do not know where the nominee stands on a number of issues.
That is because Judge Roberts, like some previous nominees, declined to answer many questions about issues he believed could come before the Supreme Court, saying he did not want to prejudge cases. That frustrated Democrats, including Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. "Many of us are struggling with exactly that: what kind of a justice would you be, John Roberts?" she asked.
Judge Roberts, a conservative appeals court judge who was a political appointee in the administrations of President Bush's father and Ronald Reagan, sought to assure lawmakers that he is not an ideologue, but one who respects the law. He said his two-year record as an appellate judge offers a guide to who he is. "I would hope you would look at my briefs and my arguments before the Supreme Court and conclude that that is a person who respects the law, respects the court before whom he is arguing, and will approach the law in a similar way as a judge," he said.
Other Democrats expressed concern about memos Judge Roberts wrote as a lawyer in the Reagan administration that called for a narrow application of civil rights laws. "You would not admit now in 2005 that any of those views you argued for in the early 1980's were misguided, with the hindsight of history. That is troubling," said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
Judge Roberts argued that the memos reflected administration policies.
Republicans dismissed Democrats' criticism and praised the nominee, saying he is well qualified to lead the high court. "If a person truly follows and watches what he says and looks at the comments and trusts the answers, and I believe him to speak honestly and with high integrity, they would say 'this is going to be a fair and impartial judge,'" said Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.
Later, the committee heard from witnesses who testified in support of and in opposition to the nomination.
Steve Tober, an official with the American Bar Association, offered a strong endorsement. "The ABA standing committee is fully satisfied that Judge Roberts meets the highest standards required for serve as Chief Justice of the United States," said Mr. Tober.
Among those opposing the nomination was Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "The test is whether John Roberts has demonstrated that he is committed to the fundamental principles on which our country was founded and whether his vision of America matches the expectations of mainstream Americans," said Mr. Henderson. "John Roberts has failed this test."
The Judiciary Committee is to vote on the nomination next week.
Confirmation by the full Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, is expected. A vote is likely by the end of month, in time for the start of the new court session October 3.
If confirmed, the 50-year-old judge could serve on the Supreme Court for decades, making decisions that could affect generations of Americans. Justices on the high court serve for life. He would succeed the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.