John Roberts: Sparse Record Raises Serious Concerns

Opinions and argued cases raise doubts about where Roberts stands on protection of Americans’ constitutional rights and freedoms; Sparse record requires close Senate scrutiny to determine suitability for Court

Federal appeals court Judge John Roberts, nominated by President Bush to the U.S. Supreme Court, has a sparse public record; and several of his judicial opinions and argued cases raise real concerns about his suitability for the Supreme Court, said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas.

“It is extremely disappointing that the President did not choose a consensus nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor,” said Neas. “John Roberts’ record raises serious concerns and questions about where he stands on crucial legal and constitutional issues – it will be critical for Senators and the American people to get answers to those questions. Replacing O’Connor with someone who is not committed to upholding Americans’ rights, liberties, and legal protections would be a constitutional catastrophe.”

Roberts was a corporate law firm lawyer for most of his career; where he does have a record, said Neas, Roberts has failed to show a commitment to fundamental civil and constitutional rights, both in his role as a Deputy Solicitor General and as a judge. Neas called on all senators, regardless of political party, to take the time necessary to carefully review Roberts’ complete record and insist that Roberts openly and fully discuss his judicial philosophy on important constitutional and legal issues.

Advocating Against Privacy Rights and First Amendment Protections
As Deputy Solicitor General during the first Bush administration, Roberts tried to convince the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a case that didn’t even directly concern that issue. The case, Rust v. Sullivan, dealt with a rule prohibiting federally funded family planning clinics from discussing abortion with patients, not the validity of Roe, which protects a women’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom. Nevertheless, Roberts’ brief proclaimed that “[w]e continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled” and that the Court’s ruling that a woman has a fundamental right to make her own reproductive choices about abortion has “no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution.”

Roberts urged the Supreme Court in Lee v. Weisman to rule that public schools can officially sponsor prayer at graduation ceremonies. The Court rejected Roberts’ arguments, upholding the principle of church-state separation that protects students’ and all Americans’ religious freedom.

Undermining Environmental Protections and Rejecting Protections for Veterans
During his short tenure as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Curcuit, Roberts has issued troubling dissents against environmental protection and veterans’ rights. In one case, Roberts wrote a dissent suggesting that the Endangered Species Act, at least as applied in a case concerning a California development project, was unconstitutional. All the other judges on the court except one, including judges appointed by President Reagan and the first President Bush, disagreed with Roberts.

In another case, Roberts argued that federal courts cannot even hear claims by American soldiers who had been tortured in Iraq as POWs during the Gulf War. His opinion was rejected by the court’s majority.

The Senate’s Duty
“The Senate is the president’s constitutional partner in appointing people to lifetime positions on the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court” said Neas. “It is the senators’ duty not to act as rubber stamps for the President’s nominees, but to examine carefully all the evidence about the nominee’s record and make an independent judgment. Particularly given Roberts’ sparse public record, confirmation must depend in large part on his willingness to share and defend his legal philosophy and fully answer senators’ questions about his views on our Constitution and protections for our fundamental rights and freedoms.”

For a detailed preliminary report on Roberts’ record, please visit http://media.pfaw.org/roberts.pdf

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