Members of the U.S. Senate are beginning to examine the record of President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge John Roberts, as they prepare for confirmation hearings, which could begin as early as next month. Judge Roberts met with Senate leaders and members of the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Under Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has the responsibility to advise the president about nominees and the authority to approve or reject them.
Senators are taking their advise-and-consent responsibility seriously. They acknowledge that Supreme Court justices are the final arbiters on issues that can affect all aspects of daily life. They also note that the justices serve for life, or until they decide to retire, and thus their influence can last for decades.
A day after President Bush announced his decision to name Judge Roberts to the high court, Republicans praised the nominee, saying he would be a fair, open-minded and impartial member of the Supreme Court.
"I believe Judge Roberts is exactly the kind of Justice America expects on the Supreme Court. He is among the best of the best legal minds in America," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Republicans hope for quick confirmation, noting that the Senate two years ago confirmed Judge Roberts to the appeals court.
Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, agree that Judge Roberts is a man of intellect and good character, but they are reserving judgment on his fitness for a seat on the Supreme Court.
"All these are important qualities, but they do not automatically qualify John Roberts to serve on the highest court in the land. Nor does the fact that he has been confirmed to serve on the court of appeals mean that he is entitled to be automatically promoted," he said.
Senator Ted Kennedy is a member of the Judiciary Committee who voted against sending Judge Roberts' appeals court nomination to the full Senate two years ago. He expressed concern about the nominee's commitment to individual rights, and referred to a brief Judge Roberts co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, should be overturned.
"He opposed programs to guarantee equal opportunity, he opposed the right to privacy, and argued to overturn the Roe v.Wade, saying the case was wrongly decided," Sen. Kennedy said.
Democrats are vowing to press Judge Roberts to explain his views on civil rights, abortion and other matters, and say they will demand full answers to their questions about his rulings, statements, writings and judicial views.
Although Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, Democrats could block the nomination from coming to a vote, as they have done with 10 of President Bush's judicial nominees. But it is not clear if they will pursue such parliamentary tactics.
Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, hopes they do not.
"I am hoping it will not be a partisan battle, that it will be, as the president requested, a dignified, courteous proceeding, where we take a look at Judge Robert's background, his jurisprudence in detail, his professionalism, and make up our minds," he said.
President Bush would like Judge Roberts sworn in by the time the Supreme Court reconvenes on October 3.
If confirmed, Judge Roberts, a 50-year-old conservative, would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who often cast the swing vote on the nine-member court.