The Confirmation Waltz

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; 9:54 AM

John Roberts must be a good ballroom dancer.

He displayed all kinds of stutter-step moves in gliding by and tap-dancing around the tougher questions he got at yesterday's Senate hearing.

The tone was more legal seminar than confrontation, almost a chin-pulling session among constitutional scholars. Arlen Specter kicked things off by exploring the doctrine of stare decisis and then moving into more technical terms, such as super stare decisis and the rarely invoked super-duper stare decisis.

The only real sparks in the opening hours came when champion talker Joe Biden pressed JR to answer questions he felt were improper for a potential Supreme Court justice to answer, and Biden accused him of "filibustering" and providing non-answers (which is of course the goal of every nominee), and when Roberts accused Ted Kennedy of having "not accurately represented my position" in citing an old memo on civil rights.

Whatever the issue, Roberts tried to deflect it with talk of two-part tests and three-part tests and balancing acts and respect for precedents. He said he viewed Roe v. Wade as settled law--"entitled to respect" under stare decisis (but not super stare decisis !) -- without binding himself in any way. ( Stare decisis , for you non-Latin speakers, essentially means respect for precedent.) On Reagan-era issues, he said he was just representing the administration he worked for while ducking any hint of his own opinion. In many cases, he said nothing and said it very well.

The simple fact is that Roberts has the votes to become the next chief justice, and no senator can force him to answer any question he doesn't want to. Which may explain why the hearing seemed to lack much passion.

Almost everyone leads with Roberts on abortion:

Los Angeles Times : Roberts "indicated today that it would be hard for the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but he refused to say whether he would support efforts to do so."

USA Today : "In a sometimes testy hearing marked by tart exchanges with Democrats, chief justice nominee John Roberts would not say Tuesday if he'd vote to overturn the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide."

Chicago Tribune : "Asserting that judges should not seek to 'solve society's problems,' chief justice nominee John Roberts Jr. on Tuesday declined to discuss specific cases related to abortion, while outlining a restrained and conservative view of the courts that recognizes overturning precedent is a 'jolt' to the legal system."

Wall Street Journal: "raised concerns among conservatives by telling senators that he recognized a constitutional right to privacy, and backed the 1965 Supreme Court opinion that was used to justify abortion rights."

And here's a quick look at the analysis:

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