State Journal-Register

 July 21, 2005

Durbin to press for answers on abortion

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday that he will not apply an abortion "litmus test" to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

But the Illinois Democrat vowed to press Roberts to explain his views on abortion, a subject that Durbin said he avoided when he was being confirmed for the appeals court. Durbin voted against Roberts then.

The state's other senator, Democrat Barack Obama, was withholding his views on Roberts. In a statement, Obama said he will closely follow the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nominee "and will thoroughly review his record before deciding whether or not to vote to confirm him."

When Roberts appeared before the Judiciary Committee in early 2003 as a nominee for the U.S. Appeals Court in the District of Columbia, Durbin said he was "not forthcoming" in responding to questions about abortion and other issues.

Durbin was one of three Democrats on the committee who voted against Roberts, who ultimately won confirmation from the full Senate.

As deputy solicitor general for President George H.W. Bush, Roberts had filed a brief arguing for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

During hearings on his nomination to be an appeals court judge two years ago, Durbin asked Roberts about that brief. Roberts said it was part of the administration's defense of a federal regulation relating to Roe v. Wade. At that time, he was representing the administration's view that the decision should be overturned, he said.

"Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land," Roberts told Durbin in 2003. "It was reaffirmed in the face of a challenge that it should be overruled in the Casey decision. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent, as well as Casey."

"I was not satisfied with his answer," Durbin said Wednesday. "This time around I'm hoping he'll be more direct."

Durbin, who supports abortion rights, said that if Roberts were to favor overturning Roe, he would want to explore his reasons.

Roberts, who grew up in Indiana, has requested meetings with the members of the committee and will sit down with Durbin today.

Before becoming a judge, Roberts contributed several thousand dollars to political candidates, including former Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998. Roberts donated $1,235 to Fitzgerald's campaign against Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the Democrat he defeated, according to records. His wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, also contributed $250 to Fitzgerald's campaign.

Durbin had hoped Bush would propose a "consensus nominee" in the mold of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Instead, he said, the president chose "a more controversial nominee and guaranteed a more controversial nomination process."

Obama said he hopes for a "civil and deliberate" review of Roberts' qualifications and fitness for the high court. His spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama was unwilling to discuss what he is looking for in a justice.