Kennedy Considers Roberts Nomination

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) talks about President Bush's nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice. Kennedy is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold confirmation hearings on the nominee. Kennedy has not said how he'll vote on the nomination, but he is one of those Democrats making the case that John Roberts' impressive resume isn't enough.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Senator Ted Kennedy has not said how he will vote on the nomination, but he is one of those Democrats making the case that John Roberts' impressive resume isn't enough.

Senator TED KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): There are a lot of very bright lawyers, very, very bright judges, very, very bright professors. Nobody's entitled to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

MONTAGNE: The Senate Judiciary Committee will have the first say on whether John Roberts will serve on the Supreme Court. Senator Kennedy is a longtime member of that committee. He says the fact that John Roberts has now been nominated for chief justice doesn't change what he's looking for at the hearing.

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, it won't change my line of questioning, but I think the stakes are a good deal higher. I think it's important that we have the kind of thoughtful consideration of the nominee that beats our constitutional responsibility. This is against a very dramatic background, the death of the chief. I had my differences with Justice Rehnquist, but there is no question that he was a towering figure and an enormous defendant of the independence of the courts, which I think all Americans should appreciate.

MONTAGNE: What specifically more do you need to make a decision on his confirmation?

Sen. KENNEDY: We want to ask him about, for example, why was he opposed to the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982? Voting rights is basic and fundamental, and he insisted on an intent test rather than a results test.

MONTAGNE: In--excuse me, but intense test meaning?

Sen. KENNEDY: The intent test means that you have to demonstrate that whoever passed a local ordinance that made it difficult or complex for minorities to vote actually had an intention to discriminate. The effects test means that if the test results in the fact that no blacks are going to be able to vote, than that test is unconstitutional. And so there are a series of issues dealing with civil rights, women's rights, issues that I think he ought to be asked about, given the chance to explain his position.

MONTAGNE: A lot of people thought the Roberts' hearings would set the stage for the fight over the next confirmation battle which was expected to be the confirmation of a chief justice. The equation has slipped somewhat, but is that, under current circumstances, still true? There is a second vacancy on the Supreme Court after John Roberts?

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, there is a second vacancy, and it'd be very useful for the president to indicate who the nominee would be in order to be able to have some view about where the court, in terms of its respect for rights and liberties and protections for Americans, will result.

MONTAGNE: Otherwise, you're trying to figure out what the equation is...

Sen. KENNEDY: Not really. Not really. I always consider the nominee one at a time. I think that's the best way to do it. I'll leave others to want to kind of play the different coalitions on different issues in the Supreme Court. But I, for one, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, only look at one nominee at a time. I think this ought to be a dignified hearing, respectful hearing, and I think there's no reason that Judge Roberts cannot respond to any of the questions.

MONTAGNE: On that second nominee, though, who will be named, are you concerned about who that person might be?

Sen. KENNEDY: Only to the extent that that nominee is going to be committed to the core values of the Constitution. As I say, we have made extraordinary progress in this country. We've knocked down the walls of discrimination, and it's important that we have some understanding of where nominees are going to be. There are those that are not part of that progress. I think we are a fairer America, a better America because of the progress that we have made.

MONTAGNE: Senator Kennedy...

Sen. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: ...thanks very much for joining us.

Sen. KENNEDY: OK.

MONTAGNE: Ted Kennedy is a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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