Roberts Grilled on Key Abortion Ruling The second day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts began Tuesday with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Roberts about the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that gave women legal access to abortion. Roberts was also grilled on how he would handle precedents set by previous court rulings. Ari Shapiro reports.
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Roberts Grilled on Key Abortion Ruling

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Roberts Grilled on Key Abortion Ruling

Roberts Grilled on Key Abortion Ruling

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, we'll talk about the president's comments today on where the buck stops on Hurricane Katrina. But first on Capitol Hill today, President Bush's nominee for chief justice of the United States faces more questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here with more on the second day of hearings for Judge John Roberts is NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Almost as soon as questioning began, John Roberts drew a line on which questions he would not answer.

Judge JOHN ROBERTS (Supreme Court Nominee): I do feel compelled to point out that I should not, based on the precedent of prior nominees, agree or disagree with particular decisions.

SHAPIRO: The decision in question was Roe vs. Wade, which granted women the right to an abortion. Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, the pro-choice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, spent nearly his entire half-hour questioning Roberts about abortion rights. And though Roberts would not commit to upholding or overturning Roe, the nominee did say he thinks a precedent has been established.

Judge ROBERTS: I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. A precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness. It is not enough--and the court has emphasized this on several occasions--it is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided. That really doesn't answer the question; it just poses the question.

SHAPIRO: Specter also asked Roberts about a memo he wrote in the 1980s that referred to the so-called `right to privacy.'

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Do you believe today that the right to privacy does exist in the Constitution?

Judge ROBERTS: Senator, I do. The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways.

SHAPIRO: Roberts said his memo was an attempt to convey his clients' opinion, not his own. His clients' views came up again when Specter asked Roberts about work he did on Romer vs. Evans, a landmark gay rights case. Roberts provided free legal assistance to the gay plaintiffs in the case at his law firm's request. Roberts said he'd often been asked to help with cases and never refused.

Judge ROBERTS: It was my view that lawyers don't stand in the shoes of their clients and that good lawyers can give advice and argue any side of a case.

SHAPIRO: The ranking Democrat on the committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, focused his questions on the separation of powers. Leahy quoted memos that Roberts wrote in the '80s as a White House lawyer. Those memos said the president had broad authority despite the wishes of Congress in a particular case concerning veterans' benefits. The senator wanted to know whether a Chief Justice Roberts would keep presidential power in check. Roberts again replied that when he wrote that memo, he was serving a client.

Judge ROBERTS: I believe very strongly in the separation of powers. That was a very important principle that the framers set forth that is very protective of our individual liberty.

SHAPIRO: Leahy also wanted to know Roberts' opinion on a now-disavowed Justice Department memo that said the president could legally circumvent international treaties outlawing torture.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Do you believe that the president has a commander in chief override to authorize or excuse the use of torture in interrogation of enemy prisoners even though there may be domestic and international laws prohibiting this specific practice?

Judge ROBERTS: Senator, I believe that no one is above the law under our system and that includes the president. The president is fully bound by the law, the Constitution and statutes.

SHAPIRO: As the day progresses, each of the 18 Judiciary Committee members will question the nominee for half an hour. If everything goes according to schedule, the hearing will end on Thursday. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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