State Journal-Register

July 23, 2005

Durbin: Roberts should face questions squarely
Supreme Court nominee calls on senator

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Sen. Dick Durbin emerged from a private meeting with U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts on Friday reporting that it was a positive experience.

He added, however, that pointed questions would follow when the Senate Judiciary Committee examines the philosophy of a judge whom Durbin, an Springfield Democrat, has described as "evasive" in the past.

"I tried to ... take the measure of the man in terms of who he was and what his values were," said Durbin, who met with Roberts for about 40 minutes. "It was a positive measure."

President Bush nominated Roberts, a federal appeals court judge in the District of Columbia, on Tuesday to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Since then, Roberts has been paying courtesy visits to the members of the Judiciary Committee who plan to hold hearings on his nomination as early as next month.

Accompanied by former Sen. Fred Thompson, Roberts met Durbin, the assistant minority leader, in his offices in the Capitol. The White House tapped Thompson, a Tennessee Republican, to act as Roberts' adviser during the Senate confirmation process.

So far, Roberts has met with at least a dozen of the 18 members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as Senate leaders. He did not stay to talk with reporters after his get-together with Durbin.

Two years ago, Durbin was among a handful of committee members who opposed Roberts' confirmation to the federal Court of Appeals in Washington.

"I think he was evasive, and that's why I didn't support him," Durbin said.

When he asked Roberts whether the Supreme Court was following a "strict constructionist" philosophy when it effectively outlawed segregation in schools in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Roberts "wouldn't answer the question," Durbin recalled.

Durbin said he urged Roberts Friday to be as forthcoming and honest as possible in the upcoming hearings. Supreme Court nominees typically avoid making statements that would signal how they would vote on a case that might come before the court.

"I am sure we will disagree on issues of substance and policy," he said. "But if he is open and honest, I think it will go a long way toward a successful hearing and a better understanding of what he will bring to the court."

Reiterating that he would not use Roberts' position on abortion as a "litmus test," Durbin said it is legitimate to ask the conservative jurist "what he thinks about the underlying principles of Roe v. Wade," the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Durbin favors abortion rights.

"I'm going to let them establish the standard about previous cases and how they comment on those, but I think speaking to constitutional principles involved in those cases is appropriate," the senator said.

One point Durbin wanted to explore was whether the highly successful attorney, a Harvard Law School graduate, could relate to the "powerless in America."

Roberts recalled his representation, without pay, of the poor, Durbin said.

"Like most of us, he hates bullies," Durbin said of Roberts. "He believes that the rule of law gives even the powerless their day in court and their chance. I thought it was a good answer," he said.