The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday opens a third day of hearings into the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be chief justice of the United States. On Tuesday, the nominee declined to answer a number of questions, saying he did not want to prejudge issues that could come before the high court. 

Many of the questions lawmakers asked Judge Roberts Tuesday dealt with the controversial issue of abortion. A number of Democrats and liberal groups are concerned that the conservative appeals court judge may try to overturn the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing the procedure.

The nominee would not say whether he favors reversing the decision, saying he would not discuss his views on specific cases. But he said the case is, as he put it, 'entitled to respect' under a legal principle that says settled rulings should be allowed to stand.

"It is settled as a precedent of the court," Judge Roberts said.

On other matters, Judge Roberts was asked about documents he helped write during the Reagan administration two decades ago that Democrats described as hostile to civil rights and gender equality legislation. He expressed support for laws upholding the rights of minorities and women and said the documents reflected administration positions.

Some Democrats expressed frustration when Judge Roberts declined to comment on issues that the nominee said could come before the high court.

Here is one exchange between Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, and Judge Roberts.

"Go ahead and continue not to answer," said Senator Biden.

"Senator, my answer is that the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court requires that nominees before this committee for a position on that court not forecast, give predictions, give hints, about how they might rule in cases that might come before the Supreme Court," Judge Roberts said.

"I got that," Mr. Biden said.

After hours of tense questioning, there was a lighter moment when Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, asked Judge Roberts about what he'd like his legacy to be.

"What would you like history to say about you when it is all said and done," Senator Graham asked.

"I'd like them to start by saying he was confirmed, [but] whether they say that or not, the answer is the same: I would like them to say I was a good judge," Judge Roberts answered.

If confirmed, the 50-year-old Judge Roberts would be the youngest chief justice in 200 years. He could influence the direction of the court for decades, as Supreme Court justices can serve for life. He would succeed Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died earlier this month from thyroid cancer.