- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

With federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.’s confirmation appearing more likely, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have resorted to using the hearings to lobby the nominee about their own favorite issues.

Senators have pressed their views on the prospective chief justice about televising Supreme Court proceedings, the right to die and abortion, among other issues.

“Are you against cameras in the courtroom like [Chief] Justice [William H.] Rehnquist was?” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and longtime advocate of televising Supreme Court proceedings, asked bluntly.

Judge Roberts — sensing the prickly territory — made a lighthearted reference to former Sen. Fred Thompson, the Tennessee Republican and television star who has been ushering him through the confirmation process.

“Well, you know, my new best friend, Senator Thompson, assures me that television cameras are nothing to be afraid of,” he responded, before adding that he does not have a “set view” on the matter, but would listen to colleagues if confirmed.

After establishing that the opposite of being alive is being dead, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, went on to impress upon Judge Roberts his own view of abortion.

“I won’t press you on this issue,” Mr. Coburn said. “But for the listeners of this hearing, if in fact life is the presence of a heartbeat and brain wave, it’s important for everybody in the country to know that at 16 days post-conception, a heartbeat is present. At 41 days, right now we can assure ourselves, that brain activity and brain waves are present.”

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, took issue with the “denigrating comments” Supreme Court justices make about Congress. In particular, he was galled by one decision that ruled a law of Congress unconstitutional for its “method of reasoning.”

“Do we have your commitment that you won’t characterize your method of reasoning as superior to ours?” Mr. Specter asked in a tone that wasn’t terribly inquisitive.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Judge Roberts responded.

For good measure, Mr. Specter added: “I take umbrage at what the court has said, and so do my colleagues. There isn’t a method of reasoning which changes when you move across the green from the Senate columns to the Supreme Court columns.”

But not all such exchanges were so friendly.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, took the opportunity to lecture Judge Roberts about his own views of whether Congress has any say in whether feeding tubes are removed to allow a patient to die.

“My family faced — I’m sure many people in this audience’s families faced a difficult decision — of deciding when to no longer continue the application of artificial apparatus to keep your father or mother or husband or wife or son or daughter alive,” he explained. “It’s of great moment to the American public.”

Judge Roberts, as he had many times before, said it would be improper for him to discuss a matter pending before the Supreme Court.


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