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. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) asked what checks exist on the court's power:
Roberts: "I would say the primary check on the courts has always been judicial self-restraint and a recognition on the part of judges that they have a limited task, that they are insulated from the people. They're given life tenure, as you mentioned, precisely because they're not shaping policy. They're not supposed to be responsive; they're supposed to just interpret the law."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asking Roberts about judges who cite foreign laws in their decisions:
Coburn: "Is relying on foreign precedent and selecting and choosing a foreign precedent to create a bias outside of the laws of this country, is that good behavior?"
Roberts: "Well . . . I don't think it's a good approach. I wouldn't accuse judges or justices who disagree with that, though, of violating their oath. I'd accuse them of getting it wrong on that point and I'd hope to sit down with them, and debate it and reason about it."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), asking Roberts if reasoning used to uphold Miranda rights could be more broadly applied:
Specter: "Do you regard the evolution of various interpretations on liberty as a living thing, as Justice Harlan did, and as Justice Rehnquist appeared to on the Miranda issue?"
Roberts: "Well, I think the Framers, when they used broad language like 'liberty,' like 'due process,' like 'unreasonable' with respect to search and seizures, they were crafting a document that they intended to apply in a meaningful way down the ages. As they said in the preamble, it was designed to secure the blessings of liberty for their posterity."
Roberts's response to a question from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) about the right to die:
Roberts: "Those are issues that come before the court, and as a result I will confront those issues in light of the court's precedents with an open mind. I will not take to the court whatever personal views I have on the issues -- and I appreciate the sensitivity involved -- they won't be based on my personal views. They'll be based on my understanding of the law."
Biden: "That's what I want to know about, because without any knowledge of your understanding of the law, because you will not share it with us, we are rolling the dice with you, Judge."
Exchange between Roberts, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Specter about allowing cameras into the Supreme Court:
Grassley: "Are you against cameras in the courtroom like Justice Rehnquist was?"
Roberts: "Well, my new best friend, Senator Thompson, assures me that television cameras are nothing to be afraid of. But I don't have a set view on that. I do think it's something that I would want to listen to the views of -- if I were confirmed -- to my colleagues."
Grassley: "I would suggest, then, to the chairman that we move quickly on that bill before he's got an opinion on it."
Specter: "I intend to do just that, Senator Grassley, now that I have your support."
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.): "Many people, including a majority, I believe, of the people in my state as well as myself, were quite disturbed by this ruling (Kelo v. City of New London), which appears to place much private property at risk by greatly expanding the eminent domain powers of, you know, a local government. . . . So could you expand on it a bit?
Roberts: "What the court is saying -- what the majority is saying is, because of the difficulty of drawing a line, this issue is really left up to the legislature; and if the legislature wants to draw the line in a particular place, it has that authority. But it certainly is a decision that was closely divided, 5 to 4, and it has gotten a lot of legislative reaction.
"And the point I would only make is that it's perhaps a good example of the fact that legislatures -- legislators have a responsibility to protect the rights of the people just as much as courts."
Kohl: "Did I understand your opinion on whether or not that case was correctly decided, or are you not thinking -- "
Roberts: "No, again that's -- particularly since it's an area they do leave -- specifically leave open the question about -- "
Roberts: " -- whether it applies outside of a redevelopment project; that's an issue that could come before the court. It's not one I feel appropriate to comment on."