Pretty soon, Supreme Court nominees will be asked to supply the Senate with their high-school papers in an effort to determine their future votes on key issues like abortion and the Ten Commandments. That is, of course, if the special-interest groups have their way.
It simply won’t be enough for candidates to posses the kind of academic brilliance that makes them unquestionably qualified for such an exalted position. Graduating summa cum laude from Harvard won’t mean a thing if sometime in the distant past the nominee has taken a position that sounds even the slightest bit disturbing to those who would set the social agenda for the nation.
Take the latest nominee, John Roberts _ indisputably among the top tier of those who graduated from Harvard in the last century and a fast-track Supreme Court clerk, practicing lawyer and federal circuit court judge since. Roberts now must face having to answer for statements he made 25 years ago while a deputy U.S. solicitor general as if the papers of his youth were relevant today. Hopefully, the administration will resist the demand from Democrats and special-interest allies searching desperately for something to derail his nomination.
Their request for about 75,000 pages of writings is ridiculous, and the White House is correct in arguing that they amount to the privileged advice of a lawyer to his client who just happens to be the president of the United States. Democrats have told Bush just how disappointed they are in not gaining access to documents that will be a guide to Roberts’ judicial philosophy. Tough.
Leading the charge is Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whose brother, ironically, appointed the most conservative member of the court in the last 50 years, Justice Byron White. Kennedy, the longtime liberal pillar of the Senate, is questioning Roberts’ statements on civil rights in documents he wrote for President Ronald Reagan nearly a quarter-century ago. There is no indication, of course, that Roberts believes these statements currently, whatever they were, or that he was doing anything more than what he was asked to do, trying to give a president the support needed to justify his policy.
Those looking for ammunition against Roberts should search for someone to carry their water without his own youthful indiscretions. Or have we completely forgotten the car accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969, resulting in the death of a young lady and the end of the senator’s presidential prospects? Perhaps we should remember that Robert Byrd, the longtime senator from West Virginia, was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan and has long demonstrated that he now abhors positions such as that group’s.
Roberts’ record has been relatively indefinable in terms of the social issues that drive the debate over the Supreme Court, increasing the frustration of those who would like to derail him on grounds that he is too conservative. They would like nothing better than to delay the confirmation hearings as long as possible on the chance they might be able to turn up something in his past, personal or public, that would help their efforts as they ultimately did with Justice Clarence Thomas. The unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse from a longtime friend of Thomas’s nearly kept him off the court after opponents couldn’t find any other reason to deny him confirmation. It was among the most vicious attacks in confirmation history.
Efforts to tie Roberts’ wife’s strong opposition to abortion as a devout Catholic have fallen flat, as they should. If every nominee must answer for the positions of a spouse, no one would be elected or confirmed. George H.W. Bush opposed gun control, while his wife strongly supported controls. Thankfully, the story about Roberts’ wife has no legs.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has made it clear to Democrats he wants to get confirmation hearings started before Labor Day to attempt to complete the process before the Supreme Court’s new term begins in October. Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said she will stay on until her replacement is confirmed.
Roberts, like others before him, can’t be expected to answer directly how he stands on any given issue that might come before the court. Nor should his opinions given to another president more than two decades ago when he was barely out of law school be used against him, even if they are now controversial.
The president has selected a qualified candidate for the nation’s highest court, and the Democrats should get over it.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)