Opening Forays in Roberts Hearings

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The Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The introductory hearing included opening statements from the 18 senators on the committee, and from the nominee himself. We will hear excerpts of the statements.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has begun its hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be the chief justice of the United States. Today's proceedings consisted mainly of opening statements from the 18 senators on the committee followed by a statement by the nominee himself.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Judge JOHN ROBERTS (Supreme Court Nominee): I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

SIEGEL: Before Judge Roberts spoke, each of the senators on the committee had 10 minutes to speak. One theme that emerged from their statements: Should Judge Roberts answer questions about his views on specific issues that might come before the court? Republicans on the committee said no, and the Democrats typically said yes. Here are some excerpts from today's statements.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): I have expressed my personal view that it is not appropriate to ask a question about how the nominee would vote on a specific case. But senators have the right to ask whatever question they choose, and you, Judge Roberts, have the prerogative to answer the questions as you see fit or not to answer them as you see fit.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Judge Roberts, I hope you will respond fully and candidly to such questions. Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, there are real and serious reasons to be deeply concerned about Judge Roberts' records. In particular, we need to know his views on civil rights, voting rights and the right to privacy.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): The confirmation process has sometimes been, it seems to me, unbecoming of the Senate and disrespectful of nominees. I applaud President Bush for resisting this trend and for nominating qualified men and women who, as judges, will not legislate from the bench. And you're a perfect example of that.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): It would be very difficult--and I said this to you privately, and I said it publicly--for me to vote to confirm someone whom I knew would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): The court's legitimate authority derives not from commitments made during confirmation but from its obligations embodied in the Constitution. Our proper role this week is to determine whether Judge Roberts has the character, the legal ability and the judicial philosophy to fulfill that responsibility.

SIEGEL: Senators Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona; and before that, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California; Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah; Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and the committee chair, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter. There will be at least three more days of hearings before the committee votes whether to send the nomination of Judge Roberts to the full Senate.

Elsewhere on today's program, NPR's Nina Totenberg reports on today's hearing. You can also hear more highlights of today's session at our Web site, npr.org.

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