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Roberts hearings not entirely useless

By Michael Huston
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
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Last week, the people of the United States were able to witness something they have not seen since 1994, the nomination hearings of a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

One would think that an event of such importance, with the opportunity for Judge John Roberts to become the chief justice for life hanging in the balance, would be a major source of concern for the people and their elected representatives.

But the hearings received relatively little media attention, and the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings did little to help the public understand Roberts' views on many of the issues he is likely to face while on the court.

The Constitution stipulates that the president shall nominate judges to the high court, and that the Senate shall then provide "advice and consent. " This language however provides little real explanation of just what the Senate should be doing during its confirmation hearings.

Political science senior lecturer James Todd, who teaches a course on the judicial process, said that he thought the hearings "were successful in showing what kind of an individual (Roberts) is and how he approaches the job of judging," but Todd said that he remains concerned because the hearings "haven't given us a real view at all of what his thinking is on many of the issues that are going to come before the court."

Many had hoped that the hearings would provide the country with an opportunity to understand Roberts' views on numerous key issues, but this opportunity never came.

The first and most obvious reason is that Roberts refused to speak his mind on many hot button issues, citing a need to be impartial "should the matter come before me on the court." Although this response has been typical of almost every recent Supreme Court nominee, it is a practice that came to the dismay of liberals and conservatives alike.

Evan Hoole, a mathematics senior who followed the hearings closely and identifies himself as a moderate liberal, said he is "concerned about the change the Roberts court will have on cases involving abortion and civil rights," and that the hearings were not altogether helpful for him to learn Roberts' views on those issues.

Michael Huston

The hearings, though, were also likely disappointing to some conservatives as Roberts, when asked about abortion issues, reiterated the importance of precedent in deciding cases, leading some to believe he will not be as conservative a justice as they had hoped.

Todd was also displeased with the nominee's responses, saying that "we already know the views of the other eight justices on the court, why shouldn't we know how he would have voted if he was on the court?"

Even if Roberts had been inclined to answer all of the questions asked of him, it did seem that many of the senators were not really interested in his answers in the first place.

The Washington Post reported on Sept. 14 that some senators spent as much as 12 of their allotted 15 minutes talking themselves, and several senators interrupted Roberts multiple times while he answered their questions.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter even had to repeatedly ask Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden to allow Roberts to finish his answers during the time provided to them for questioning.

Republican senators, though, were just as much at fault, with some of them asking "fluff" questions or simply talking at length without any question at all.

This led Todd to say, "The senators spend entirely too much time talking" and must not continue to "preen, posture and pontificate" if the process is to be improved at all.

One is led to wonder whether the senators actually cared about getting answers from Roberts or were instead more interested in asking the questions with the cameras rolling.

Despite the inability of the public to ascertain Roberts' views on important judicial issues, the hearings were certainly not useless. If nothing else, they provided a rare opportunity to examine the history of the court and the continually developing role of the judiciary in modern America.

To his credit, Roberts also provided a comprehensive explanation of several important Supreme Court decisions in our nation's history, and with the hearings concluded it is clear that he is certainly well qualified to serve as the chief justice, even if his personal views must for now remain a mystery.

Roberts will undoubtedly be confirmed as the next chief justice of the United States, but perhaps we as a nation should reconsider our Senate's process, and decide if it is at all helpful in giving the people an idea of a nominee's views before we decide if they are worthy of a life term.

Michael Huston is a political science sophomore. He can be reached at

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