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Senate's Kabuki Dance With Roberts

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After three days of hearings on the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts to be the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States, what the public has learned is that the nominee appears to be as much Talmudic scholar as jurist.

In the relatively few questions he did not duck altogether by saying they related to issues likely to come before the Court, or by claiming the views he wrote were those of the administrations he has worked for in the past, Roberts responded even to most specific questions with an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach.

The result, as put by Sen. Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, is that, "You have managed to convince Sen. Brownback that you're on his side, and you have managed to convince Sen. Kennedy you're on his side."

Brownback is a conservative, Kennedy a liberal.

"We're rolling the dice with you, judge," Biden said, "because you won't share your views with us. You've told me nothing in this Kabuki dance. The public has a right to know what you think."

"You've being less forthcoming with this Committee than any nominee who has ever come before us," said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. "This process is getting more and more absurd," he added.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, said on CNN, "If the nominee had been more forthcoming, we'd be done by now."

Questions put by Sen. Leahy, illustrate the point.

Leahy raised the issue of increasing government secrecy, asking whether the media should have access if "it thinks the government screwed up" in its handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Roberts responded: The media is in a position to make information more widely available to the public, but there must be a balance between the government's interest and the public interest.

Leahy then turned to the issue of capital punishment, asking whether a prison inmate on death row was entitled to a hearing if he claimed he had new exculpatory evidence to present.

Roberts asserted it would be unconstitutional to execute an innocent person, but added that questions might arise if the prisoner had already filed multiple appeals.

Leahy recounted the story of a man who had been on death row for 16 years and filed multiple appeals, before a group of journalism students from Northwestern University found new evidence that caused the prosecutor to dismiss the charges.

Leahy quoted from Roberts's testimony during his previous confirmation hearings for appointment as a federal appeals court judge. "You said 'That shows the system is working'. That really worries me," Leahy said, adding he thought it was evidence that the system was broken.

Senators continued to try to lure the nominee into answering direct questions directly, but without much success.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas, two of the committee's most conservative members, questioned Roberts on the seemingly ever-present abortion issue.

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 

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