Scrutiny of court nominee is a right and responsibility
July 21, 2005
Senate Democrats have the right -- and the responsibility -- to sharply question U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.
Unfortunately, Republicans are sure to label such questioning as mere partisan politics. But they are wrong.
Roberts, who is only 50 years old, may be on the bench for decades. The American people
need to know how strongly he will align with the conservative bloc, and how likely he will be to shift the court's balance of power.
It's not just Roe v. Wade but also any number of gains that could be in jeopardy, from civil rights to the environment to the proper role of the federal courts in safeguarding the rights of all people.
The American public has been forced to scratch its head in collective bewilderment as to what Roberts may or may not believe. As Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said, "Who knows about this guy?"
The president and his conservative allies must have an inside line on Roberts' thinking. It's hard to believe that Bush would have nominated someone who may turn into a David Souter -- the nominal conservative nominated by the first President Bush who has subsequently become a staunch member of the court's liberal wing.
Inside-the-Beltway conservative groups must also know something the rest of the American people don't. As Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said in a familiar praising refrain, "The president promised us a judge along the lines of (Antonin) Scalia and (Clarence) Thomas and he kept his promise."
The spin emerging from the White House is that Roberts is intelligent, humble, non-ideological and cautious. Reading between the lines of available information, it's clear that Roberts grew up in a white, upper-middle class and male-dominated atmosphere, easily transitioning from a boys' boarding school to Harvard University to Harvard Law School to Washington, D.C., as a corporate lawyer and member of the Reagan and elder Bush administrations. Tellingly, Roberts has consistently represented corporate and Republican clients. In 21st century America, it's hardly the diversity of experience one would prefer for a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
If we are to be true to this country's democratic ideals, Senate Democrats can and should use Roberts' nomination to foster a broad inquiry into the role of the courts in protecting the democratic rights of all -- especially women, gays and lesbians, people of color, workers, consumers and environmental activists, all of whom who stand so much to lose should the Supreme Court lurch further to the right.
Barbara Miner, a journalist based in Milwaukee, often writes on social issues. She can be reached at email@example.com.