- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

In all the words spoken during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Judge John Roberts’ nomination as Supreme Court chief justice, surely none were more powerful than his opening remarks.

Panel Democrats voiced apparent frustration over Judge Roberts’ refusal to discuss how he might rule on specific issues that could, and likely would, come before the highest court in the land. They said they were searching for the values and beliefs the judge would bring to the bench to give them a clue as to how he would perform on the court.

But if they had listened more carefully, as I did, to his eloquent opening statement, delivered without text or notes, they would have had a good understanding of those values and personal beliefs. It was one of the most moving expressions ever uttered by a judicial nominee about the power of the rule of law to which he declared his allegiance.

It came in the middle of his statement when he spoke of his experience as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Solicitor General, where it was his job to argue cases before the Supreme Court in support of the government’s position.

“I always found it very moving to stand before the justices and say, ‘I speak for my country,’ ” he said. But it was after he entered private practice and began arguing cases against the government that he “fully appreciated the importance of the Supreme Court and our constitutional system,” he said.

“Here was the United States, the most powerful entity in the world, aligned against my client. And, yet, all I had to do was convince the court that I was right on the law and the government was wrong and that all that power and might would recede in deference to the rule of law,” Judge Roberts told the hushed hearing room. “That is a remarkable thing.”

It is indeed, an awesome image of the power of one against the power of the collective state to compel, punish or seize.

In a few simple sentences, Judge Roberts gave the senators a very human and deeply personal dimension to “what we mean when we say that we are a government of laws and not of men. It is the rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of all Americans. It is the envy of the world.”

The Democrats seemed unmoved by that statement, trying over the rest of the hearing to get the judge to give them a peek into how he would rule on issues from the death penalty to abortion, euthanasia to civil rights.

These were the same Democrats, like Delaware’s Sen. Joe Biden, who in 1993 advised President Clinton’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that she didn’t have to answer questions about how she might rule in future cases.

Exasperated and frustrated near week’s end, Mr. Biden, Massachusetts’ Edward Kennedy, New York’s Charles Schumer and others threw their best punches, but the judge stuck with the so-called “Ginsburg rule” and, as Justice Ginsburg did a decade ago, deflected them.

Unlike the politicians before him, Judge Roberts said he had no agenda and no political platform. He said he would “confront every case with an open mind” and fairly weigh all arguments in every case, including those of his colleagues on the bench. He said he would be governed solely by the rule of law and not by temporary fads, movements and political correctness.

Using one most memorable analogy, Judge Roberts said he would be an umpire whose job would be to “call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” But it wasn’t long before he threw some fast balls, surprising the senators when he said the Constitution did indeed protect the right to privacy, a right the ill-fated Judge Robert Bork said did not exist.

As for Roe v. Wade, the landmark case regarding the right to abortion, Judge Roberts refused to prejudge an issue that could come before him. But he made headlines when he said the Supreme Court’s precedents should be respected and rarely overturned and that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.”

When the questioning was over, Judge Roberts had confounded many of his critics on the panel and earned the respect of at least one legal scholar.

Ronald A. Cass, former Dean of Boston University Law School, hardly a bastion of the right wing, said this: “He did not compromise his beliefs or make promises, but simply laid out the way he does and should approach judicial decisions — with care, diligence and attention to the governing law. This is just what we should want in a judge.”

A strong Senate majority will no doubt agree when it votes to confirm a judge who has argued passionately for and against the government, but has since gained a much deeper appreciation of the power of one.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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