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The Issue Senators Dare Not Speak of by Name

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) holds a chart listing cases dealing with abortion during the Roberts confirmation hearings Tuesday. (Mark Wilson-Getty Images)

"Are you sending us a message?" Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked hopefully. Democrats labored to unmask Roberts as a fierce conservative, but they were largely thwarted.

The clock in Hart 216 neared 11 this morning, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Democrats' liberal lion, was on deck to question Roberts. He tapped his pencil, fixed his tie, adjusted his glasses, scratched his brow, leaned his cheek on his fist and scowled down at the nominee. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), two of the committee's conservatives, left the room rather than expose themselves to the exchange.

"I'm deeply troubled by a narrow and cramped and perhaps even a mean-spirited view of the law that appears in some of your writings," Kennedy said, drawing attention to Roberts's youth by observing that Brown vs. Board of Education was decided "the year before you were born."

Kennedy wanted to know why Roberts once wrote that there was "no evidence of voting abuses nationwide."

"This was 23 years ago," the judge replied. "It was the position of the Reagan administration." As Roberts answered, Kennedy interrupted him half a dozen times, drawing three rebukes from Specter.

"You vehemently opposed the Civil Rights Restoration Act," Kennedy accused.

"No, senator," Roberts replied. "You have not accurately represented my position." Kennedy interrupted twice more, drawing two more Specter interventions.

"I was not formulating policy," Roberts finally managed to say. "I was articulating and defending the administration's position."

Specter stepped in. "This," he said, "is a good time for a 15-minute break."

Roberts stood up and exhaled deeply. Kennedy gritted his teeth, then went to the television cameras and pronounced himself "disappointed" and "troubled."

The hearing proceeding rather calmly and respectfully -- until Biden had his turn. The senator sought to extend -- and, indeed, torture -- Roberts's baseball metaphor from Monday. "The founders never set a strike zone," Biden reported, and Roberts smiled politely. Biden spent nearly nine of his 30 minutes of question time delivering an opening statement, then said: "Let me get right to it."

Biden, skipping the stare decisis , asked Roberts directly about abortion.

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