Sarbanes To Oppose Judge Roberts As Supreme Court Chief Justice - Southern Maryland Headline News

Sarbanes To Oppose Judge Roberts As Supreme Court Chief Justice


Cites New York Times editorial as support for his decision.

Senator Paul S. Sarbanes tonight announced that he will vote to oppose Judge John Roberts as the next Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

In a speech on the floor of the United States Senate, Sarbanes said, "The confirmation process provided Judge Roberts with an opportunity to outline his general approach to the Constitution in critical areas - among them, the rights and liberties guaranteed to our citizens, the extent of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause, and the balance of power among the three branches of government. Regrettably, he declined to do so, saying that he does not have an 'overarching judicial philosophy' and comparing the role of a Justice to that of an umpire."

Sarbanes also noted, "The uncertainty arising from the hearings is compounded by the refusal of the administration to provide documents from Judge Roberts' service as Principal Deputy Solicitor General, which Members of the Judiciary Committee had requested in the course of carrying out their constitutional responsibilities. As a result, we must try to infer his underlying philosophy and views from the earlier documents made available to the Committee, and these documents are not reassuring. I am concerned that the documents we have from John Roberts raise questions about his approach to such basic issues as voting rights, affirmative action, privacy, racial and gender equality, limitations on executive authority and Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.

"Given the importance of the position of Chief Justice, in deciding whether to give consent to this nomination it is essential that it be an informed consent. As the New York Times editorial pointed out 'that position is too important to entrust to an enigma which is what Mr. Roberts remains.' I will vote against confirming John Roberts to be the Chief Justice of the United States."

The full text of Sarbanes' statement to his Senate colleagues follows:

"In the complex institutional framework established by our Founding Fathers, members of all three branches of government take an oath to support the Constitution. But it falls uniquely to the Supreme Court to expound and interpret the Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it so that our governing law remains true to the basic principles upon which this Nation was founded. The Senate's role in giving advice and consent to the nomination of the men and women who serve on the Supreme Court for a life tenure, is amongst the Senate's most important constitutional responsibilities.

"The argument is made by some that the President is entitled to the confirmation of his or her nominee unless that person is shown to have a serious disqualification. On the contrary, it is my view that the Senate's duty to advise and consent on nominations is an integral part of the Constitution's system of checks and balances among our institutions of government. Nomination does not constitute an entitlement to hold the office.

"Although all presidential nominations require the most careful and independent review, judicial nominations differ from nominations to executive-branch positions in two important respects. Within the Constitutional framework the judiciary is the third co-equal branch of government, independent of the executive and legislative branches. Those who sit on the federal bench receive lifetime tenure and are to render independent judicial decisions. In contrast, appointees to the executive branch are meant to carry out the program of the President who nominates them, and they serve only at the pleasure of the President for limited tenure.

"The bar must therefore be set very high when we consider a judicial nomination - especially when the nomination is to the Supreme Court and, as in this instance, to the position of Chief Justice.

"Mr. President, while qualifications and intellect are important criteria in considering a nomination to the Supreme Court, the Senate must also take into consideration the judicial philosophy and constitutional vision of any nominee for appointment to the Supreme Court. As Chief Justice Rehnquist, for whom Judge Roberts clerked, wrote in 1959 before he went on the Court:

'[U]ntil the Senate restores its practice of thoroughly informing itself on the judicial philosophy of a Supreme Court nominee before voting to confirm him, it will have a hard time convincing doubters that it could make effective use of any additional part in the selection process.'

"Inquiring into a nominee's judicial philosophy does not mean discovering how he or she would decide specific cases. Rather, it seeks to ascertain the nominee's fundamental perspective on the Constitution: how it protects our individual liberties, ensures equal protection of the laws, maintains the separation of powers and checks and balances. The Constitution is a living document. Its strength lies in its extraordinary adaptability and applicability over more than two hundred years to conditions that the Framers could not have anticipated or even imagined.

"The confirmation process provided Judge Roberts with an opportunity to outline his general approach to the Constitution in critical areas -among them, the rights and liberties guaranteed to our citizens, the extent of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause, and the balance of power among the three branches of government. Regrettably, he declined to do so, saying that he does not have an "overarching judicial philosophy" and comparing the role of a Justice to that of an umpire. The New York Times put it succinctly:

'In many important areas where senators wanted to be reassured that he would be a careful guardian of Americans' rights, he refused to give any solid indication of his legal approach.'

"The uncertainty arising from the hearings is compounded by the refusal of the administration to provide documents from Judge Roberts' service as Principal Deputy Solicitor General, which Members of the Judiciary Committee had requested in the course of carrying out their constitutional responsibilities. As a result, we must try to infer his underlying philosophy and views from the earlier documents made available to the Committee, and these documents are not reassuring. I am concerned that the documents we have from John Roberts raise questions about his approach to such basic issues as voting rights, affirmative action, privacy, racial and gender equality, limitations on executive authority and Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.

"Mr. President, given the importance of the position of Chief Justice, in deciding whether to give consent to this nomination it is essential that it be an informed consent. As the New York Times editorial pointed out 'that position is too important to entrust to an enigma which is what Mr. Roberts remains.' Mr. President, I will vote against confirming John Roberts to be the Chief Justice of the United States."

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