A Rare Sight in Washington: Partisans Back Off

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005 4:10 PM

The plan for Talking Points this week was to focus on the reaction of interest groups to the John Roberts Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But there has been a decided lack of fireworks or energy. Everything suggests the Roberts nomination is seen as a fait accompli by partisans on both sides of the aisle in Washington.

Roberts's performance so far has been so masterful, so disarming that the political left has foundered in its effort to tag him as some sort of scary extremist. The vast mushy middle seems accepting and the right is still thrilled.

On top of that, at least two major stories -- the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued violence in Iraq -- are overshadowing the Roberts hearing. That has given the opposition even less of an opportunity to own the news cycle.

"The fact is, the perception that it is a 'fait accompli' was put out there by Democrats from the start, which has served to dampen grassroots energy out there," said David Sirota, a liberal blogger, who also co-chairs the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN).

"If you remember, the first day after Bush nominated Roberts as an associate justice, Democrats were basically out there talking tactics/strategy instead of conviction, and essentially saying they couldn't do anything. It was truly pathetic. They created a self-fulfilling prophecy by rolling over and dying. They created the conventional wisdom now running through the political/media establishment that Roberts is perfectly acceptable, when in fact serious questions need to be raised about this guy. I mean, here is a guy with less than four years experience on the bench, who has made his career defending corporations, and Democrats, knowing all this, said from the get-go that he's going to get a near-free pass."

Roberts has faced some level of interrogation from Democrats, particularly Sens. Pat Leahy (Vt.) and Joseph Biden (Del.). But Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), a pro-choice Republican, has given Roberts some of his toughest questioning. Still, some Washington pundits are suggesting it could be over by the end of the week.

None of this is to suggest that there is not real, virulent opposition to Roberts from the left. There is. But neither side is acting as though there is a real battle -- the outcome of which could hinge on their advocacy.

It's more a matter of tone and intensity, which are difficult to measure. Still, when major battles occur in Washington, journalists' e-mail inboxes are flooded with screaming press releases and statements, sometimes from dozens of interests groups.

And while the perceived lack of interest among the party hierarchy has created a bit of a dampening effect on the enthusiasm of the interests groups, here's a sampling of the reaction to Roberts's testimony so far:

People for the American Way said in a statement: "So far during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts has tried to leave the impression that when he worked in the Reagan and Bush I administrations he was just acting as a staff attorney, advancing the views of those he worked for. In addition to the significant positions that Roberts held during that time, which belie such a claim, documents from the time also strongly suggest that, on at least 18 occasions, Roberts was putting forth his own views, not merely those of the administration. Indeed, ultraconservative lawyer Bruce Fein, who served with Roberts in the Reagan Justice Department, has acknowledged that Roberts was among 'a band of ideological brothers' and that the deeply held convictions that Roberts demonstrated "aren't principles that evaporate or walk away."

[Click her for specifics arguments.]

The liberal National Women's Law Center said Roberts did little to dispel the notion that he would weaken women's rights: "John Roberts was disingenuous in his response to questions Title IX, elusive regarding his views on gender discrimination, and evasive in response to questions about Roe," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of center. "Far too much is at stake. Now is not the time for John Roberts to dodge and weave."

[Click here for specific arguments]

Independentcourt.org, a consortium of liberal groups opposing the Roberts nomination, accused the nominee of misleading the Senate about his positions on a range of issues.

"Yesterday's simple platitudes by John Roberts have turned to today's tortured responses to Senators' questions. Several times throughout this morning's hearing, Roberts gave misleading answers to questions about his positions in four areas: the right to privacy, civil rights (Grove City), gender discrimination and voting rights. Time and again, he gave the excuse that he was merely expressing 'administration positions,' when his memos show they were clearly his own views."

Some in the left are calling Roberts a "media darling" and suggesting journalists have focused on irrelevant issues, such as his charm and preparation, rather than substantive ones, such as his record and ideological leanings.

The liberal American Progress Action Fund, in its http://www.thinkprogress.org/ blog, accused Roberts of gross inconsistency in determining which questions he would answer.

"In his testimony, Roberts explained he only won't talk about cases that are 'live with business.' When is something 'live with business'? When John Roberts says it is." As Sen. Arlen Specter noted there have been 38 cases in which Roe has been taken up and had its core holding upheld. Roberts still considers that case 'live' and off-limits. There is no principle. Roberts talks about cases when it is politically convenient. When it isn't he clams up."

Groups on the right have felt little need to do the sort of aggressive flacking that typically accompanies high-profile battles in Washington these days.

"As the nation's largest public policy women's organization, we recognize that basic rights and liberties are only secure when guaranteed to all people equally and judges are blind to what 'class' people belong," said Wendy Wright, executive vice president of the conservative Concerned Women for America. "John Roberts has exhibited this ability to apply the law fairly, with respect for the fundamental liberties we all deserve."

Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said in a statement: "Judge Roberts has continued in his second day of questioning to display his faithfulness to the Constitution and to the judicial self-restraint that the Framers of the Constitution relied on judges to exercise so that our system of government could work. He testified that the Constitution contains terms and principles that apply to new conditions of today -- but not that those terms and principles can be ignored or effectively rewritten by the courts. He refused to concur, for example, with Senator Specter's assertion that abortion is a form of liberty protected by the due process clause."

Tomorrow, the Committee for Justice, a conservative group set up at the behest of Karl Rove and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to advocate on behalf of President Bush's judicial nominees, will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill "featuring victims of judicial activism by the Supreme Court and other federal courts, in order to convey the importance of constitutionalist judges."

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