- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Republicans and conservatives said John G. Roberts Jr. acquitted himself perfectly before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, but Democrats and liberal activists said he ducked questions and probably lost support for his nomination to be chief justice of the United States.

Conservatives from Leonard Leo, the executive vice president on leave from the Federalist Society, to the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America said Judge Roberts expertly handled questions on abortion, in particular.

But Democratic senators said he was being evasive.

“I think you’ve answered some questions but not answered a whole lot of others,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told the judge in the afternoon session.

“I think it’s a game so far,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who noted Democrats were not treating the hearings as “a game of gotcha.”

“The American people are entitled to know what this guy thinks and he will affect your life more than anything Senator Biden will ever do,” he said.

Liberal advocates were even harsher.

“Yesterday he spoke about baseball and today he played dodgeball all day,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. “He gave the illusion of candor and the appearance of openness, but he spent the entire day responding to direct questions with evasive answers.”

Mr. Neas said Judge Roberts has lost support among Senate Democrats.

“I think he did not do himself any favors with a lot of key votes on that committee,” he said. “I do think on the basis, especially of the last several days, there’s been momentum, over the last several weeks, as senators reviewed documents and found the portrait the White House painted over the first few days was not accurate.”

Judge Roberts, who now sits on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, faced his first day of questions yesterday.

As of 6 p.m. he had faced 35 questions on civil rights, 10 on following precedent, 40 questions on the role of a judge and 25 on abortion and privacy, according to Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who said Judge Roberts handled them correctly by declining to answer some.

“I understand the line you’re walking and I think it’s really a constitutional standard you’re trying to observe, and I applaud you for it,” Mr. Cornyn said.

“I have never seen a better nominee for the court,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. “I just don’t see why the Democrats don’t fold up their tents.”

Conservative groups also praised him.

“We firmly believe that Judge Roberts’ statements and opinions demonstrate his unequivocal belief in and deference to the text of the Constitution and the intent of the Founders,” said Jan LaRue, Concerned Women for America’s chief counsel.

Some Democrats have said publicly they do not think Judge Roberts’ nomination can be defeated on an up-or-down vote, and as of now there is little talk of a filibuster.

That leaves them trying to figure out what strategy to pursue once the hearings are over.

“Is the goal to lay down a marker for next time or is it to try to maximize the number of no votes, or some combination of the two? That decision has not been made yet,” said one Democratic aide who has been following the hearings.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, said Judge Roberts was articulate but not very informative.

“Anybody who’s argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court is going to do very well in front of a panel of senators,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any surprise he’s been articulate and quick and has developed what most lawyers and politicians share, which is the ability to say not much in an elegant and lengthy way.”

Liberal activists fear that Democrats may have already hindered their efforts in the early days after Judge Roberts’ nomination to the court was announced.

“I think the Democrats shot themselves in the foot by basically saying this guy’s going to pass anyway so what can we really do. That hurt their ability to just have an honest inquiry,” said Democratic strategist David Sirota.

He said Democrats must show they are interested in a serious inquiry of the nominee, and use that as a way to show what they as a party stand for.

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