Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Roberts May Get Tough Questions

One thing the U.S. Senate has never been accused of is being a collection of meek and humble people, and they do not like it when they get smacked around by another branch of the government, especially one they can’t control, like the Judiciary. (It’s totally another matter when they’re sucking up to the president. Then it’s Sycophancy Central.)

Sen. Arlen Specter wants to know where John Roberts stands on the Supreme Court lipping off to the House and Senate.

Lawmakers have little control over what the Supreme Court does beyond the setting of the court’s budget, the confirmation of new justices and the impeachment of justices and judges for wrongdoing. That leaves Roberts’ confirmation hearings as a rare opportunity for court criticism when lawmakers know justices and prospective justices are listening.

Specter called the limiting of Congress’ authority “the hallmark agenda of the judicial activism of the Rehnquist Court.”

“I do see a great deal of popular and congressional dissatisfaction with the judicial activism; and at the minimum, the Senate’s determination to confirm new justices who will respect Congress’ constitutional role,” Specter said.

Republicans are hoping for smooth hearings followed by a quick confirmation vote on Roberts. Though Specter didn’t criticize Roberts specifically, his comments introduced a new element into the discussion.

Democrats pointed to Specter’s letter as an indication that they, too, should be able to ask Roberts about specific legal cases at his Sept. 6 confirmation hearing. Roberts’ supporters have argued that the high court nominee shouldn’t be forced to talk about individual cases and what he thinks about the issues involved.

Said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.: “Senator Specter’s questions aren’t exactly identical to the 80-plus that I’ve asked of Judge Roberts, but the spirit of asking them and the need for a response is the same.”

In one case Specter cited, U.S. v. Lopez, the high court in 1995 threw out a federal law that banned possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school, saying Congress lacked the authority to enact it. In U.S. v. Morrison, the Supreme Court in 2000 threw out part of the federal Violence Against Women Act, saying rape victims could not sue their attackers in federal court because it was up to the states — not Congress — to give such help to women victimized by violence.

In both cases, Congress said its power to regulate interstate commerce gave it the ability to pass the laws. The court disagreed.

I know the supporters of Judge Roberts don’t want the questioning to go beyond name, rank, serial number, and favorite Beatle, but this could get into some interesting questions. Let the ego-blasting begin!