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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Republicans had already heard enough; Democrats wanted more answers--so began the final day of hearings on the president's nominee for chief justice of the United States. Judge John Roberts returned this morning to wrap up his testimony, and then the committee heard from witnesses both for and against Roberts' confirmation. In a few moments, thoughts from two legal scholars on the Roberts hearings. First, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has details of the day.


Late this morning nominee Roberts stood up from the witness chair, embraced his wife and left the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room having completed nearly 20 hours of testimony over four days. On his final day, Roberts faced questioning almost exclusively from Democrats, who say they're still struggling to get a fix on the nominee. Senator Charles Schumer has been frustrated with what he said has been Roberts' reticence to answer questions about the power of Congress to regulate local practices that affect interstate commerce. But today Schumer got a surprisingly direct answer to a hypothetical question on cloning.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): It came to our attention, Congress', through a relatively and inexpensive, simple process, individuals who are now able to clone certain species of animals, maybe an arroyo toad, didn't go over--didn't pass over state lines; you could somehow do it without doing any of that. Under the commerce clause, can Congress pass a law banning even non-commercial cloning?

Judge JOHN ROBERTS (Supreme Court Nominee): I appreciate it's a hypothetical, and you will as well, so I don't mean to be giving binding opinions. But it would seem to me that Congress can make a determination that this is an activity, if allowed to be pursued, that is going to have effects on interstate commerce. It--obviously if you were successful in cloning an animal, that's not going to be simply a local phenomenon.

TOTENBERG: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin pressed Roberts about his assertion that he would be willing to represent almost anyone with a legitimate legal argument. Noting that Roberts had helped prepare lawyers for a Supreme Court argument in a gay rights case, Durbin asked if the nominee would have been willing to do the same for those arguing on the other side in favor of a discriminatory law. `I probably would have,' replied Roberts. Durbin pressed on, asking if judges have an extra duty to look carefully at claims of `little people' up against those with far more resources. Roberts replied this way.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Judge ROBERTS: Sometimes the Constitution is on that person's side and not on the side of the corporation with the fancy printed brief. But the judge's obligation is to appreciate that the rule of law requires that both of those be treated equally under the law.

TOTENBERG: With the committee vote on the Roberts nomination set for next week, the only question is how many Democrats will vote against him. Senator Edward Kennedy said today that on the critical issue of discrimination, there's no evidence that Roberts harbors any racial or gender bias. The question, as Kennedy put it, is, `Do you get it?' California Senator Dianne Feinstein put her doubts this way.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, Illinois): I don't really know what I'm going to do with respect to voting for you or voting against you. I had one impression of you when we had our hour in private, and to a great extent I think I came out of that meeting with a different sense of you. And, of course, the impression that I have today is of this very cautious, very precise man, young, obviously with staying power. I mean, you've gone through this in a remarkable way. I'm convinced you will be there, God willing, for 40 years.

TOTENBERG: And Senator Schumer summed up his dilemma this way.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Sen. SCHUMER: I, for one, have woken up in the middle of the night thinking about it and being unsure how to vote. This is a vote on the chief justice of the Supreme Court. You will, in all likelihood, affect every one of our lives in many ways for a whole generation. So this isn't just rolling the dice. It's betting the whole house.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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