Following are excerpts of questions, answers and exchanges at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday on the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. for chief justice:
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) asking Roberts's opinion on Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion:
Specter: "Judge Roberts, in your confirmation hearing for the circuit court, your testimony read to this effect, and it's been widely quoted: 'Roe is the settled law of the land.' Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?"
Roberts: "Well, beyond that, it's settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis. And those principles, applied in the Casey case, explain when cases should be revisited and when they should not. And it is settled as a precedent of the court, yes."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asking Roberts if the president would be exempt from the law if he endorsed the use of torture:
Leahy: "Do you believe that the president has a commander-in-chief override to authorize or excuse the use of torture in interrogation of enemy prisoners even though there may be domestic and international laws prohibiting the specific practice?"
Roberts: "Senator, I believe that no one is above the law under our system, and that includes the president. The president is fully bound by the law, the constitution and statutes."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked Roberts's opinion about the Voting Rights Act:
Kennedy: "I'm just trying to find out, on the Voting Rights Act, whether you have any problem at all and trouble at all in terms of the constitutionality of the existing Voting Rights Act that was extended by the Congress."
Roberts: "Oh. Well, the existing Voting Rights Act -- the constitutionality has been upheld. And I don't have any issue with that."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) asked Roberts about providing free legal assistance to those who need it:
Hatch: "The position that you have been nominated for is chief justice of the United States. Do you plan to use that role as a bully pulpit to encourage members of the bar to take seriously their responsibility to undertake pro bono work as you have done throughout your legal career?"
Roberts: "Yes, Senator, if I am confirmed I would hope to do that and, if I'm not, I would hope to do that back on the Court of Appeals. I think it's a very important part of a lawyer's obligation."
Roberts's response to Sen. Charles E. Grassley's (R-Iowa) question if there is any room for judges to consider their personal views in deciding a case:
Roberts: "No, I don't think there is. Sometimes it's hard to give meaning to a constitutional term in a particular case. But you don't look to your own values and beliefs. You look outside yourself to other sources. This is the basis for -- you know, judges wear black robes because it doesn't matter who they are as individuals. That's not going to shape their decision. It's their understanding of the law that will shape their decision."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Roberts his view on women's rights in light of memos he had written:
Feinstein: "In a memorandum to Fred Fielding, White House counsel under President Reagan, about the nomination of a woman to be recognized for moving from homemaker to lawyer, and your response to nominating this woman for an award was this, quote: 'Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that's for the judges to decide.' "
Roberts: ". . . It is, to me, obvious, in the memo that I wrote to Fred Fielding that it was about whether or not it's good to have more lawyers. Whether they were from homemakers, from plumbers, from artists or truck drivers had nothing to do with it. The point was, is it good to have more lawyers? That's the way I intended it, and I'm sure that's the way -- "
Feinstein: "And you don't think it was good to have more lawyers?"
Roberts: "I think there were probably -- the point that Mr. Fielding and I had commented on, on many occasions, was that in many areas there were too many lawyers. And that's a common joke that goes back to Shakespeare. It has nothing to do with homemakers. The notion that that was my view is totally inconsistent and rebutted by my life. I married a lawyer. I was raised with three sisters who work outside the home. I have a daughter for whom I will insist at every turn that she has equal citizenship rights with her brother. . . ."
Feinstein: "So it's fair to say you don't think that way? Is that correct?"
Roberts: "Well, I don't think in any way that is based on anything other than full equal citizenship rights on the basis of gender. I might tell a lawyer's joke that there are too many lawyers today, but that's all it was back then."