Specter Calls Hearings for Chief Justice A 'Challenge'

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will open the first Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 11 years tomorrow by saying the panel faces "the biggest challenge of the year, and perhaps the decade," in deciding whether to recommend John G. Roberts Jr. to be the nation's 17th chief justice.

In his opening statement, provided this weekend by his staff, Specter says the week-long hearing will be momentous for several reasons. Roberts, 50, could serve until 2040, Specter says. "The next chief justice will have the potential to change the court's image, in the eyes of many, as a super-legislature and to bring consensus to the court, which has made a hallmark of 5 to 4 decisions, many of which are inexplicable."

Roberts's votes, Specter says, could prove decisive "on many key issues such as congressional power; presidential authority; women's rights including abortion; civil rights including voting and affirmative action; defendants' rights including the death penalty; prayer; and technology of the future."

Specter's opening statement -- to be followed by those of the 17 other committee members and then Roberts's -- reflects the candor for which the 75-year-old moderate Republican is known. "It has been my experience," his speech says, "that the hearings are a subtle minuet with nominees answering as many questions as they think they have to in order to be confirmed."

Specter says Roberts can expect pointed questions on contentious issues, including the 1973 abortion ruling Roe v. Wade . "While I will not ask Judge Roberts whether he would overrule Roe ," Specter says, "there are, in my opinion, entirely appropriate questions on his jurisprudential views that might be asked." They include "his views on stare decisis , or following precedents, as well as his views with respect to the importance of stability in the law. . . . These hearings present an opportunity to expose the extreme positions taken by the Supreme Court in denigrating the role of Congress in our constitutional separation of power."

-- Charles Babington

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