Smooth Sailing So Far For Roberts

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.
Chief Justice nominee John Roberts said Wednesday 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.

President Bush's choice parried lawmakers' questions on a wide variety of subjects — voting rights, the death penalty, the use of foreign law by jurists — amid clear signs that he was on a smooth path toward Senate confirmation as the nation's 17th chief justice.

Republicans challenged Democrats who might oppose Roberts' nomination, portraying the appellate judge and former political appointee in the Reagan and first Bush administration as a brilliant legal scholar who is highly capable to lead the court.

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

Watch a Live Webcast of the Roberts confirmation hearing.

Earlier this year, a sharply divided Supreme Court said 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 on the third day of his confirmation hearings.

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.

"It's not simply a question of legislating to address particular needs, but you obviously have to also be cognizant of the people's rights and you can protect them in situations where the court has determined, as it did 5-4 in Kelo, that they are not going to draw that line," Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"This body and legislative bodies in the states are protectors of the people's rights," Roberts said on the third day of his confirmation hearings.

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.

Roberts was pressed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., about the Voting Rights Act and a provision that allows the government to veto proposed changes in state or local election systems if they are deemed to have a discriminatory purpose or effect on minority voters.

"I have no basis for viewing this as constitutionally suspect," Roberts told a persistent Kennedy.

Roberts also said if four justices voted for a stay of execution and a fifth vote were necessary to keep the appeal alive temporarily, he would cast the fifth vote. "I think that practice makes a lot of sense."

And he reiterated his opposition to the use of foreign law in rendering U.S. court decisions, but he rejected the notion that judges who do so are violating their oaths as some conservatives have argued.

"I wouldn't accuse judges or justices who disagree with that, though, of violating their oaths. I'd accuse them of getting it wrong on that point," Roberts said.