Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin acknowledged yesterday that he was the source for a newspaper column that reported earlier this week that Judge John G. Roberts Jr. said he could not rule in a Supreme Court case where U.S. law might conflict with Catholic teaching.
But the Illinois Democrat maintains that the column by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley incorrectly captured the private conversation that the senator had with Judge Roberts in his Capitol office Friday.
When the column appeared Monday, Mr. Durbin’s office clarified that “Judge Roberts said repeatedly that he would follow the rule of law.”
Spokesman Joe Shoemaker also said he did not know who Mr. Turley’s source was, although only a handful of people were in the room at the time.
“Whoever the source was either got it wrong or Jonathan Turley got it wrong,” Mr. Shoemaker said Monday.
Yesterday, Mr. Shoemaker said the source was Mr. Durbin.
“He and Turley were in the green room of the NBC studios,” he said. “Turley was getting makeup put on, and Durbin was taking it off.
“They talked for about a minute, and I’m being generous,” Mr. Shoemaker added. “Durbin said Turley didn’t identify himself as a journalist but introduced himself as a law professor.”
Both Mr. Shoemaker and Mr. Turley said large parts of the conversation concerned the writer’s previous column.
Mr. Turley said that after he wrote the Judge Roberts column, he read back portions of it to Mr. Shoemaker, whom, he said, verified the account. Mr. Shoemaker declined to comment further.
Conservatives accused Mr. Durbin — who is Catholic — of having a religious “litmus test” under which he would oppose any nominee to the high court who is Catholic and follows the church’s teaching on abortion.
Connie Mackey, vice president of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote Mr. Durbin a letter yesterday asking him to clarify his position on the matter.
“It has been our concern over the past few years that one who is orthodox in their religion, whether it is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or any other denomination, will be discouraged from seeking a position on the court or for that matter that a chilling effect is being placed upon anyone seeking public office who is devout,” Mrs. Mackey wrote. “It is the intention of the Family Research Council to encourage legislators not to pit nominees’ faith against their fitness for public office.”