Springfield State Journal-Register

September 7, 2005

Durbin calls for stepped up scrutiny of Roberts

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that John Roberts deserves even more scrutiny now that President Bush has nominated him to be chief justice.

"He's no longer one of nine associates. The chief justice is considered first among equals. He will lead the court, if approved. We will move from the Rehnquist era to the Roberts' era and that puts a great deal more importance on the hearings and his answers to questions," said Durbin, the second most senior Democrat.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings on Roberts next Monday. The hearings had been scheduled to begin Sept. 6, for Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But they were postponed after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died and Bush decided to nominate Roberts for the top position on the court instead.

Durbin said Roberts will face even tougher questioning "because his job is to create majority opinions and that means his own values and his own beliefs will be central to that role. You just look back and you can see the drift of opinions of the court based on the chief justice and we need to know who he is and what he believes," Durbin said.

"Giving us 25-year-old memos from his years as a Reagan attorney really won't do the job," he said, complaining about the White House's refusal to release documents from Roberts' service in the White House under the current president's father.

Durbin, known as an aggressive questioner, said he's been carrying around huge binders to study Roberts' opinions. He's asked his staff to survey all questions asked of every nominee for the past 30 years and he's read questions once posed by his close friend and mentor, the late Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

"It's almost like preparing for bar review," Durbin said.

Durbin, like other Democratic senators, hasn't yet said how he will vote. But he voted against Roberts' nomination to the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia two years ago because of his evasiveness on abortion and other issues.

When Durbin met with Roberts in July, he said he told him "you don't have to answer every question to my liking. But if you're open and honest and candid, I will go that extra mile to try to support your nomination. But if you decide you don't have a responsibility to establish why you're deserving of this lifetime appointment, then it's going to be very difficult."

Durbin said he doesn't expect the president to nominate someone to replace O'Connor until after Roberts is confirmed.

"If the president announced his nominee and turned out to be someone who was truly moderate in their approach that would certainly help John Roberts. But if it's someone from a very hard political position, then it makes it more difficult for Roberts," he said.

He said he'd like to see Bush name "a conservative of Justice O'Connor's stripe, that's a person who may not agree with me on every decision but clearly has an open mind and will listen to the evidence."