Senate Democrats want to draw out the confirmation of federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court as long as possible, but they expressed little hope that they can prevent him from reaching the high court.
The White House has called for hearings to begin in late August, according to Judiciary Committee sources, while the panel’s Democrats want to postpone them until September to give them and their supporters time to build a complete dossier on Judge Roberts.
President Bush has said he wants retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement confirmed by the Oct. 3 start of the Supreme Court term.
“We’re not going to be rushed into rubber-stamping anything,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The committee needs time to carefully review the nominee’s background and writings.”
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said last week that he is “flexible” but that “September is a preferable time.”
Specifically, Democrats want to learn more about Judge Roberts’ judicial philosophy, especially on whether he will defer to precedent or seek to undo modern American jurisprudence that many conservatives say has been wrongly settled.
The most hotly contested example is Roe v. Wade, which made abortion a constitutional right.
Among the more than seven pages of written questions that Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has asked Judge Roberts is: “Do you believe that Roe v. Wade (1973) was correctly decided? What is your view of the quality of the legal reasoning in that case? Do you believe that it reached the right result?”
Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, asked a similar question last week — specifically what the judge, who is Catholic, would do if the law required him to do something that his church teaches as immoral, according to a column that appeared in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times.
But when the column drew criticism as a religious litmus test, Mr. Durbin’s spokesman said the column was wrong, prompting writer Jonathan Turley to say he learned of the exchange from Mr. Durbin.
Late last night, the Associated Press reported that the White House will deny the Senate Judiciary Committee documents from Judge Roberts’ 1989-1993 service as deputy solicitor general — the government’s No. 2 courtroom lawyer.
“They will not be released,” a senior Bush administration official told AP on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been made public. The move risks a clash with Senate Democrats who blocked appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada over a similar demand for unfettered access to administration working papers.
Also yesterday, the Drudge Report quoted “a top Hillary source” as saying that “Sen. Hillary Clinton has confided to associates that she intends to vote for Bush Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.”
Her office said yesterday that the New York Democrat has not made a decision and won’t do so until after the confirmation hearings.
Liberal groups also are demanding to know whether Judge Roberts is now or ever has been a dues-paying member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.
The White House has repeatedly said that although Judge Roberts has attended events at the Federalist Society and has delivered speeches for the group, he has no memory of ever joining. The White House has demanded corrections in The Washington Post and other news organizations that had assumed that Judge Roberts was a member because so many of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees have been.
But the liberal Institute for Democracy Studies found a leadership directory from 1997-98 that lists Judge Roberts as a member of the society’s steering committee. The group gave a copy to The Washington Post, which put the story on its front page yesterday.
Still, the White House stuck to its story.
“He doesn’t recall ever paying dues or being a member,” said spokesman Scott McClellan.
Judge Roberts, who met with senators on the Judiciary Committee again yesterday, declined to answer reporters’ questions.
“I don’t think he wants to take any questions,” observed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who met with Judge Roberts yesterday.
Asked about the matter after Judge Roberts left, Mrs. Feinstein said she did not ask whether he had ever joined the Federalist Society.
“It’s not a dispositive question, in my view,” she said. “It would be interesting to know what the answer is because he said he can’t remember.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said too much is being made of the issue.
“Obviously it wasn’t central in his life, but it’s not like being a member of the Communist Party,” said Mr. Cornyn, who added, “I don’t think I am or have been a member.”