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September 19, 2005

Pass a Senatorial Sickness Bag

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The tortuous questioning of D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts, nominated as Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of the United States, is over. Ahead lies the vote by the member of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Once he's crossed that hurdle, the full Senate must fulfill an important constitutional obligation, to advise and consent to the president's choice to lead this nation's highest court.

Before I vent, the politics are pretty obvious, even to the non-political. If Judge Roberts were sent to the Senate as the replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, then the Democrats - and the special interests they represent - had a reason to object to a conservative.

Now, though, it makes no sense to put up such a hue and cry. Judge Roberts and the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist are almost interchangeable in terms of their beliefs and philosophies.

Whatever votes liberals lost to Justice Rehnquist's very conservative view will still be lost. Judge Roberts doesn't change the formula.

The next appointment should be the battleground. The person chosen to replace Justice O'Connor will be the real swing vote. Democrats and liberal special interests have a valid reason to fuss, fume, investigate, and challenge that appointment. That could be the vote that undoes Roe v. Wade, and several other major legal standards.

Lest you think this column another partisan rant, I'm nauseous over the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for my sickness.

Last Monday's opening statements reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. Most of the committee's Republicans spend all or most of their statement reminding Judge Roberts that he had no obligation to answer any question that would expose his judicial thinking on an issue that might come before him were he to be confirmed as chief justice.

We heard about historical precedent, constitutional protections, judicial integrity, and the high standards to which we must hold our Supreme Court justices.

Some of the Republicans, most notably Orrin Hatch (R., UT) and Charles Grassley (R., IA) were the most passionate and insistent that Judge Roberts avoid the traps that some might lay for him.

I got the sense that Senators Hatch and Grassley felt Judge Roberts' very life was in danger so that they needed to throw an armored vest over him and hustle him out of the Senate Caucus Room.

Not to be outdone, the Democrat sages weighed in (oops, sorry Senator Kennedy). Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., MA) and Joe Biden (D., DE), and my personal favorite (not a compliment) Dick Durbin (D., IL), led the charge, taking all of their allotted time to remind Judge Roberts (and viewers and listeners) that he had a responsible to answer any question they might ask.

They would have the American people believe that any refusal by Judge Roberts to answer a question is tantamount to his pleading for Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Truly stupid!

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., CA) went on a goofy rant about Nazi monsters breaking the spirit of Jews in World War II and even with my education and experience, I'm at a loss to understand her point and how it directly relates to John Roberts and his judicial appointment.

So, why does the normal political posturing by both Republicans and Democrats make me ill? I'm nauseous because back when President Bill Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, the tables were completely turned.

Senators Kennedy and Biden, and the rest of the Democrats on the committee, strongly advised Justice Ginsberg to respect the cannons of judicial ethics and refuse to answer any question that might expose her thinking on specific matters.

It was such a controversy that Justice Ginsberg actually coined a phrase to define the limits of her answers. "No hints, no forecasts, and no predictions" is how she explained her absolute obligation to avoid being forced to answer an objectionable question.

Guess who raised the biggest objections? That's right! It was Senators Arlen Specter (R., PA), Hatch and Grassley, along with the other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee.

As far as Team GOP was concerned, Justice Ginsberg was denying Americans an insight into how she would impact the lives of Americans, the very same argument now being made by Democrats about Judge Roberts.

I'm sick of all of these knuckleheads. Gone are the days of the golden-tongued orators, left in the dustbin of history, standing as a lone senator bravely holding the floor against motions for cloture, arguing until hoarse for some point that mattered to him above all else.

Today, we're stuck with partisan hacks, less concerned with the good of our country than they are with appeasing the special interests that prop them up and fund their reelection campaigns.

I'd like to see every single member of the Judiciary Committee voted out purely on the basis of his or her hypocrisy and inability to function in a rational manner on an issue as important as the appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

If it's this bad on the Roberts nomination, where I've already suggested his vote won't alter the court on any major ideological issue, heaven help us when it comes to the nominee to replace Justice O'Connor, the one that'll really matter.

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