Sen. Kennedy on John Roberts' Nomination

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) explains why he believes John Roberts, President Bush's nominee for chief justice of the United States, isn't the man for the job.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Today, confirmation hearings for John Roberts begin in earnest. Senators will question the nominee for the high chair of the Supreme Court. Joining us now is Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. He's been critical of the Roberts nomination.

Senator Kennedy, welcome. Thanks for being with us.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Glad to be here.

GORDON: I know you wanted to mention something about the Katrina aftermath before we got into the confirmation hearings.

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I don't think they're unrelated. I think the stark and tragic images of human suffering in the aftermath of Katrina reminded us yet again that civil rights and equal rights are still the great unfinished business of America, and the suffering has been disproportionally borne by the weak, the poor, the elderly and the infirm and largely by African-Americans. I believe that kind of disparate impact is morally wrong in this, the richest country in the world. And I think the three co-equal branches of government--the Congress, the executive, but most of all the courts--can help remedy that situation. And the question, I think, before Judge Roberts is where does he stand? As we have seen a march for progress in the last 50 years in knocking down the walls of discrimination on race and religion and gender, will he be on the side for progress, or is he going to have a more narrow, stingy view about the Congress' and the court's role in fulfilling the 14th Amendment's command of equal opportunity?

GORDON: Based on the history of his writings, this has been of grave concern to you about this nominee.

Sen. KENNEDY: There's no question about it. If you look at the question of the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1982, he was for a much weak--he opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act that had been the law of the land since what they called the Zimmer case for some 15 years, knocking down the various laws that had discriminated against blacks and kept blacks out of representative positions. He was against the EEOC, which is the agency of government that considers discrimination in jobs, employment on the basis of race and gender and the handicapped. He thought it was un-American. I think that he has a very cramped view about understanding that this country should--has to deal with the challenges and the subtleties of inequality and racism.

GORDON: Yet yesterday, Senator, we heard from Mr. Roberts and he says that he has no political platform. He's not a politician, in his words, and he will not bring that to the bench. Do you buy that?

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I think Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas say that they're not politicians, and they're judges and they're going to call them as they see them. We have to go beyond that. We have to--he has distressing and disturbing writings that go back from a time in the Justice Department. I want to know whether that's still his view, and if he says, `Well, that isn't my view,' if he feels that all of the Civil Rights laws that have been passed are all constitutional and can stand constitutional muster, that's important. Does he believe today in the importance of affirmative action? Then that shows some real progress. I'm interested in what his views are today. The administration has only given us documents of the past. Why? I don't know what they are trying to hide.

GORDON: Do you expect that these hearings will provide that opportunity to really get a view of this man? You said yesterday it's very important for the American people to understand who this justice is and what views are important on constitutional issues, yet you also said that you don't expect him to answer the questions that may indeed give you that insight.

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I indicated yesterday that I hoped that he would. This is his opening to the American people. It isn't just to the members of the Judiciary Committee. This is his interview with America. And America is going to be making a judgment. No one questions that he's an able and gifted and talented lawyer. That's part of the qualifications, but the rest is how is he going to stand? Is he going to feel that this country will not be America unless we knock down the walls of discrimination and prejudice that we've got in this country? I believe that that's the kind of commitment to the core values of the Constitution that deserves the vote.

GORDON: Well, we should note that that interview with America, as you call it, starts in earnest today. You and your colleagues will be questioning Judge Roberts, and we appreciate your time.

Sen. KENNEDY: It's an important one for all Americans to focus in on. People are working, they're working hard, providing for their families, but have them take a little time and watch these hearings, because this is going to have an influence on your life, your children's life and your grandchildren's life. Thanks very much, Ed. Good to talk to you.

GORDON: Thanks, Senator. Good to talk to you.

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