Sen. Harry Reid to Oppose John Roberts
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says he will vote against the nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice of the United States.
Reid scheduled a speech on the Senate floor for mid-afternoon, at which he was expected to make his announcement public.
I suspect several other Democrats will also vote against Roberts. He didn't answer their direct questions about his views on abortion, civil rights and other important issues, sticking to his script about respecting precedent. His hearings were more like a law school class at which he was lecturer-in-chief.
As big as the abortion issue is to many folks, civil liberties in the broader context (Patriot Act, increased governmental snooping, etc.) the death penalty and criminal justice are my primary areas of concern. Roberts just about got a pass on all those issues from the Senators, and I'm not happy about that. Still, Roberts will be confirmed, and the real fight is yet to come - over Justice O'Connor's replacement. I'm holding my big guns for that one.
Update: From Sen. Reid's statement (received by e-mail):
“I was very impressed with Judge Roberts when I first met him, soon after he was nominated. But several factors caused me to reassess my initial view.
“Most notably, I was disturbed by the memos that surfaced from Judge Roberts’s years of service in the Reagan Administration. These memos raise serious questions about the nominee’s approach to civil rights.
“It is now clear that as a young lawyer, John Roberts played a significant role in shaping and advancing the Republican agenda to roll back civil rights protections. He wrote memos opposing legislative and judicial efforts to remedy race and gender discrimination. He urged his superiors to oppose Senator Kennedy’s 1982 bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and worked against affirmative action programs. He derided the concept of comparable worth and questioned whether women actually suffer discrimination in the workplace.
“No one suggests that John Roberts was motivated by bigotry or animosity towards minorities or women. But these memos lead one to question whether he truly appreciated the history of the civil rights struggle. He wrote about discrimination as an abstract concept, not as a flesh and blood reality for countless of his fellow citizens. The memos raised a real question for me whether their author would breathe life into the Equal Protection Clause and the landmark civil rights statutes that come before the Supreme Court repeatedly.
“Nonetheless, I was prepared to look past these memos, and chalk them up to the folly of youth. I looked forward to the confirmation hearings in the expectation that Judge Roberts would repudiate those views in some fashion. Instead, the nominee adopted what I consider a disingenuous strategy of suggesting that the views expressed in those memos were not his views, even at the time the memos were written. He claimed that he was merely a “staff lawyer” reflecting the positions of his client, the Reagan Administration.
“Anyone who has read the memos can see that Roberts was expressing his own personal views on these important policy matters. In memo after memo, the text is clear. It is simply not plausible for the nominee to claim that he did not share the views that he expressed.
“For example, there is a memo in which he refers to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as “un-American.” If Judge Roberts had testified that this was a twenty year old bad joke, I would have given the memo no weight. But instead, he provided a tortured reading of the memo that simply does not stand up under scrutiny.
“In another memo Judge Roberts spoke about a Hispanic group that President Reagan would soon address, and he suggested that the audience would be pleased to know that the Administration favored legal status for the “illegal amigos” of the audience members. The use of the Spanish word “amigos” in this memo is patronizing and offensive to a contemporary reader.
“I do not condemn Judge Roberts for using the word “amigos” twenty years ago in a non-public memo, but I was stunned when at his confirmation hearing he could not bring himself to express regret for using the term, or recognize that it might cause offense.
“My concerns about these Reagan-era memos were heightened by the fact that the White House rejected a reasonable request by Committee Democrats for documents written by Judge Roberts when he served in the first Bush Administration. After all, if memos written twenty years ago are to be dismissed as not reflecting the nominee’s mature thinking, it would be highly relevant to see memos he had written as an older man in an even more important policymaking job.
“The White House claim of attorney-client privilege to shield these documents is utterly unpersuasive. Senator Leahy asked Attorney General Gonzales for the courtesy of a meeting to discuss the matter and was turned down. This was simply a matter of stonewalling.
“The failure of the White House to produce relevant documents is reason enough for any Senator to oppose this nomination. The Administration cannot treat the Senate with such disrespect without some consequences.
“In the absence of these documents, it was especially important for the nominee to fully and forthrightly answer questions from Committee members at his hearing. He failed to do so adequately. I acknowledge the right – indeed, the duty – of a judicial nominee to decline to answer questions regarding specific cases that will come before the court to which the witness has been nominated. But Judge Roberts declined to answer many questions more remote than that, including questions seeking his views of long-settled precedents.
“Finally, I was very swayed by the testimony of civil rights and women’s rights leaders against confirmation. When a civil rights icon like John Lewis says that John Roberts was on the wrong side of history, Senators must take notice.
“I like Judge Roberts. I respect much of the work he has done in his career, such as his advocacy for environmentalists in the Lake Tahoe takings case several years ago. In the fullness of time, he may well prove to be a fine Supreme Court Justice. But I have reluctantly concluded that this nominee has not satisfied the high burden that would justify my voting for his confirmation based on the current record.
“Based on all of these factors, the balance shifts against Judge Roberts. The question is close, and the arguments against him do not warrant extraordinary procedural tactics to block the nomination. Nonetheless, I intend to cast my vote against this nominee when the Senate debates the matter next week.”
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