Roberts Still Offers Few Specifics

Chief Justice nominee John Roberts waits for the start of the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005.
Supreme Court nominee John Roberts on Wednesday assured the Senate Judiciary Committee he would be guided by the law, not personal beliefs, on right-to-die cases. He also told the lawmakers that Congress can counter the court's decisions.

But Roberts continued to carefully dance around expressing any specific views. CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports Delaware Democrat Joe Biden was frustrated by an inability to get a straight answer

"Without any knowledge of your understanding of the law — because you will not share it with us — we are rolling the dice with you, Judge," said Biden, who has wrangled with Roberts on privacy issues, right-to-die cases and whether judicial candidates should fully answer senators' questions.

Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate feel comfortable with President Bush's choice to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist as chief justice, and they challenged Democrats who might oppose Roberts' nomination to be the nation's 109th Supreme Court justice.

"If people can't vote for you, then I doubt that they can vote for any Republican nominee," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Watch a Live Webcast of the Roberts confirmation hearing.

Republicans portrayed the appellate judge and former political appointee in the Reagan and first Bush administration as a brilliant legal scholar who is highly capable of leading the court for at least a generation. Mr. Bush chose Roberts to succeed the late Rehnquist, who died Sept. 3 of cancer.

Democrats praised him as well, but also pushed for him to express clear opinions on a wide variety of subjects — eminent domain, voting rights, the death penalty, the use of foreign law by jurists.

On right-to-die cases, the nominee would say little more than his oft-repeated response that it would be inappropriate to comment on cases that he might decide. "I will confront them with an open mind. They won't be based on my personal views. They will be based on my understanding of the law," he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed Roberts on whether in his personal life he would listen to a dying family member or want to rely on the government in making an end-of-life decision.

"You do want to understand and appreciate the views of the loved ones," Roberts said.

Early in his testimony on Wednesday, Roberts' second day of answering senators' questions, the nominee told Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., that Congress has the right to counter Supreme Court rulings including a divisive decision giving cities broad power to seize and raze people's homes for private development.

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that cities can take and bulldoze people's homes in favor of shopping malls or other private development to generate tax revenue. The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as favoring rich corporations, and Republican lawmakers and some Democrats have criticized it as infringing on states' rights.

"This body and legislative bodies in the states are protectors of the people's rights," Roberts said. He said he had been surprised when he heard of the court's ruling.

Congress has been working on legislation that would ban the use of federal funds for any project that gets a go-ahead relying on the Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., decision.

Also on the question of congressional versus court authority, committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., bristled at lawmakers "being treated as schoolchildren" in criticism from some judges, including Justice Antonin Scalia.

Roberts said the Supreme Court was not the taskmaster of Congress. "The Constitution is the court's taskmaster and it's Congress' taskmaster as well," he said.