ALEX CHADWICK, host:
When John Roberts won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the US Court of Appeals two years ago, three Democratic senators voted against him; though in the full Senate, he won unanimous confirmation by a voice vote. But Judge Roberts can expect his confirmation hearings this time to be much tougher. NPR's Mike Pesca talked to different advocacy groups.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
In his announcement last night, George W. Bush painted John Roberts as a bit of a Prince Charming, but later you had to think of Goldilocks when listening to New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who is not too hot, not too cold on Roberts.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): But with some nominees, you might have said, `Well, there's a darn good shot that's going to be a consensus nominee.' With others, you'd say, `There's a darn good shot that's not going to be a consensus nominee.' He's in the middle.
PESCA: Julian Bond is the executive chairman of the NAACP, and he doesn't see anything middle-of-the-road about John Roberts.
Mr. JULIAN BOND (Executive Chairman, NAACP): President Bush would not have chosen this man unless he understood he would follow this radical judicial policy/philosophy that's shared only by the court's two most militant members, Scalia and Thomas.
PESCA: From the other side of the political spectrum, Paul Orfanedes, chief counsel for Judicial Watch, doesn't even sound like he's talking about the same person as Julian Bond.
Mr. PAUL ORFANEDES (Judicial Watch): He's a mainstream-leaning conservative jurist takes and he takes a fairly narrow view of what the role of a judge is.
PESCA: Judicial Watch serves as an ethical and legal watchdog promoting, according to its mission statement, a return to ethics and morality in our nation's public life. It is among the more important conservative organizations which seem to be universally applauding the Roberts nomination.
Another such organization, one that Judge Roberts is actually a member of, is the Federalist Society. Another member is constitutional lawyer Mark Smith. He says that Democrats should be relatively happy with the Roberts nomination, because while Roberts will be a reliable member of the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court, in Smith's view, he won't lead it.
Mr. MARK SMITH (Constitutional Lawyer): I don't see Judge Roberts leading the charge trying to alter fundamental American law to the right, let's say. I do think that he will vote in particular cases, and maybe that will effectuate incremental change, but I don't see him voting or supporting sort of a vast overhaul of, let's say, the welfare state.
PESCA: Morris Dees is the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He thinks that Roberts isn't unique, but that he is radical.
Mr. MORRIS DEES (Southern Poverty Law Center): President Bush and his political advisers made a wise choice for their political agenda. They delighted the religious right and they confused the moderates.
PESCA: Confused because Roberts is even-tempered and affable. Dees sees him as clearly hostile to abortion rights, and worries that judges like him on the highest court could roll back gains won by the civil rights movement.
Mr. DEES: We've depended on the United States Supreme Court to give a progressive and liberal interpretation to human rights. Who knows what would happen if Rehnquist and Scalia and Roberts and Thomas were on the court when they decided whether a person should have the right to legal counsel. We have to think, what would it be like as a nation with our civil rights if we had those type people on the court for the last 40 years.
PESCA: Of course the Supreme Court can change a person. Speaking from his home in Montgomery, Dees raises the example of Judge Hugo Black, an Alabaman who was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. In Dees' estimation, Black turned out to be a, quote, "fabulous justice." Roberts, at 50, if confirmed, will have a long time to surprise, disappoint, or solidify a lot of expectations. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
CHADWICK: Here's a programming note. NPR News does plan full coverage of the hearings on Judge Roberts whenever those hearings do take place in the coming weeks. And you can listen to all of NPR's coverage of the Roberts nomination and read political editor Ken Rudin's analysis of Judge Roberts' record and prospects at our Web site, npr.org.
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