Nominee Roberts Goes to the Hill

Supreme Court Justice-designee John Roberts is making the rounds on Capitol Hill. These initial visits to lawmakers are part of the early stages of Roberts' job interview.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In other news. Supreme Court justice designee John Roberts is back on Capitol Hill meeting with senators who'll decide whether to confirm his nomination to the high court after he is subject to do background investigations and high-profile hearings.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

During his third courtesy call of the afternoon, John Roberts strolled down a long hallway alongside Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Leahy's the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel with the job of grilling Roberts. For 35 minutes, they huddled behind closed doors. Leahy then appeared alone and relayed to reporters the message he'd given Roberts on the proper role of Supreme Court justices.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): They're there for all of us. They are the ultimate check and balance. They are the protector of our rights, and the questions that I'll be asking him in the committee to what extent he's willing to commit to just that.

WELNA: Leahy said he'll meet today with the panel's Republican chairman, Arlen Specter, to figure out just when the Judiciary Committee might hold hearings on Roberts. It's unlikely to do so until after Labor Day. That's just three weeks before the Supreme Court begins its next term, which is the target date President Bush has set for Roberts' Senate confirmation. Committee Democrats are moving quickly to try to define Roberts. New York's Charles Schumer said yesterday he has many questions for the Supreme Court nominee.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): First I'm gonna make the personal plea to him to answer the questions fully, and I'm gonna give him an idea of the questions that I am gonna ask him some of them. This is not to catch him off guard or by surprise. It's simply a fair-minded inquiry into the views of somebody who will have huge power over most Americans.

WELNA: Schumer said he plans to press Roberts on his views regarding everything from the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to override state laws, to the court's recent rulings on a right to privacy not spelled out in the Constitution. He vowed not to ask Roberts about how he would rule on specific cases that might come before the court.

Sen. SCHUMER: But asking more general views instead of asking about Enron, `What's your views on corporate responsibility and what's the bounds of what the court can do and how would you want to change the law in terms of corporate responsibility?' That's legitimate.

WELNA: But one of the Judiciary Committee's top Republicans argued on the Senate floor yesterday that what Democrats are really seeking is to expose the political leanings of President Bush's nominee. Utah's Orrin Hatch said Roberts is bound to get a lot of questions in the coming weeks.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Most of those questions are geared in one way or another to finding out how this nominee would likely rule. Past nominees, including virtually every current member of the Supreme Court, have resisted such intrusive attempts to extract either commitments or previews of future rulings. In that way, judicial nominees sometimes appear to have a deeper commitment to judicial independence than some senators.

WELNA: Lest any doubts linger about Roberts' political leanings, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist sought to define the nominee himself before Democrats do.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): He is a mainstream conservative, someone who understands that the role of the judge is to interpret the law and the Constitution and not to legislate from the bench. He is someone who will be fair, open-minded and impartial.

WELNA: But Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter is the rare Republican who says he's not yet made up his mind about John Roberts.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): And I can assure you that the hearings will be full, fair and complete, and that 18 members of the Judiciary Committee will have a full opportunity to examine Judge Roberts in some detail.

WELNA: And that would include, Specter said, a thorough review of Roberts' views on jurisprudence. David Welna, NPR News.

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