Topic: Senator Grassley, Opening Remarks
Date: SEPTEMBER 12, 2005
SPECTER: Senator Grassley?
GRASSLEY: Judge Roberts, I welcome you and congratulate you on your nomination.
I think it's fitting that you have been nominated to replace a mentor of yours, Chief Justice Rehnquist. You obviously have a tough act to follow. And that's because Chief Justice Rehnquist was a great Supreme Court justice. He believed in strict application of the law and the Constitution and was a consistent voice for judicial restraint. And we will all miss his leadership.
Judge Roberts, we had a good personal meeting in my office a little over a month ago. And based on our discussions and what I've reviewed, you appear to be extremely well-qualified.
At our meeting I was encouraged by your respect for the limited role of the courts as an institution in our democratic society.
And I look forward to asking more questions about your record and qualifications, as well as your judicial approach.
GRASSLEY: I also look forward to asking you about what you think are priorities for the federal judiciary as you now lead that branch.
Of course, as we reflect on the enormous buildup to this day and the packed hearing room filled with media lights and cameras, it's worth recalling the fact that judicial nominees never appeared before the Senate until 1925. Ever since then, for the most part, the hearings were not public spectacles.
In 1962, for example, when Byron White was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Kennedy, the hearing before the Judiciary Committee lasted all of 15 minutes and eight questions. And it seems to me that the Senate sure got it right with Justice White, and Justice White went on to serve, then, for a generation.
Of course, all this was before we had televised hearings, which has encouraged ratcheting up the rhetoric to play to various constituencies.
Furthermore, Judge Roberts, you are the first nominee of the Internet age, with millions of eyes scrutinizing thousands of downloaded pages of writing, not to mention the hundreds of Web site blogs characterizing the documents that have been produced in an accurate -- or, more likely, inaccurate -- way and opining on every record that you have been involved with, and doing it by the minute.
So to some extent, there is no turning back from what we've created here, and you just happen to be the latest victim of such scrutiny.
GRASSLEY: During the Ginsburg nomination, Senator Biden, then chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urged that we not treat these hearings, in Senator Biden's words, "as make-or-break trials of dramatic importance." And I sure agree with what he said then.
Rather, the hearing provides us a unique opportunity for us to ensure that each person appointed to the federal bench will be a true judge and not some sort of super-legislator.
The court should not be made up of seats designated conservative, liberal, moderate. Rather, we have responsibilities to fill the federal bench with individuals who will faithfully interpret the laws and the Constitution, individuals who will withhold any personal, political or ideological tendencies from their decision-making process.
And this is even more important, then, when we're confirming you now to the Supreme Court as opposed to when we confirmed you to the Circuit Court.
There are a number of qualities that I look for in a Supreme Court nominee. I believe that the nominee should be someone who knows he or she is not appointed to impose his or her views of what's right or wrong. As Chief Justice Marshall said over 200 years ago, the duty of the judge is to say what the law is, not what it ought to be.
Moreover, the nominee should be someone who not only understands but truly respects the equal roles and responsibilities of the different branches of government and the role of our states in the federal system.
If we confirm a nominee who is all of this, none of us on the political right or the political left will be disappointed because it will mean in the end that the people, through their elected representatives, will be in charge.
GRASSLEY: On the other hand, if we confirm individuals who are bent on assigning to themselves the power to fix society's problems as they see fit, a bare majority of these nine unelected and unaccountable men and women will usurp the power of the people, hijacking democracy to serve their own political prejudices.
We do not want to go down that road and we should not go down that road.
Why is it, then, so important to have Supreme Court justices practice judicial restraint? Because that means the policy choices of the democratically elected branches of government will only be overturned if and when there is a clear warrant to do so in the Constitution itself.
We want Supreme Court justices to exercise judicial restraint so that cases will be decided solely on the law and the principles set forth in the Constitution, and not upon an individual justice's personal philosophical views or preferences.
Felix Frankfurter identified this as the highest example of judicial duty.
A fundamental principle of our country is that the majority has the legitimate right to govern.
This approach hardly means that courts are less energetic in protecting individual rights. But the words of the Constitution constrain judges every bit as much as they control legislators, executives and citizens.
GRASSLEY: Otherwise we're no longer a nation of law but a nation of politicians dressed in judges' robes.
During my tenure in the Senate, I participated in a number of these Supreme Court nomination hearings, and I believe it's nine to date. I'm hopeful that we will see a dignified confirmation process that will not degenerate into what we saw during the Bork and Thomas hearings. Rather, we need to see the same level of civility as we saw during the O'Connor, Ginsburg and Breyer hearings.
Moreover, I'm hoping that we won't see a badgering of the nominee about how he'll rule on specific cases and possible issues that will or may come before the Supreme Court. That has been the practice, as you know, in the past.
And let me remind my colleagues that Justices Ginsburg and Breyer refused to answer questions on how they would rule on cases during their confirmation hearings.
The fact is that no senator has a right to insist on his or her own issue-by-issue philosophy or seek commitments from nominees on specific litmus-test questions likely to come before that court. To do so is to give in to the liberal interest groups that only want judges who will do their political bidding from the bench regardless of what is required by the law and the Constitution.
The result is, then, loss of independence for the Supreme Court and a lessening of our government's checks and balances.
Some have suggested that since you've been nominated now to be chief justice, you deserve even more scrutiny than before when you were just nominated for associate. Some are saying that we should prolong the hearings and turn over even more stones than we've already turned over thus far.
Well, the chief justice has been described as "first among equals."
GRASSLEY: The plain truth is that there really isn't anything substantively different, and your role and your vote will count just the same as other justices of the Court. So my own questioning and analysis of your qualifications will not really be much different from your previous appointment.
But it is true that the chief justice has additional duties as the head of the federal judiciary. The chief justice has to be someone who has a good management style, who can run the trains on time and who can foster collegiality on the court.
So, Judge Roberts, I think that since you've appeared before the court 39 times to argue cases on appeal, and that the current justices know and respect you, that bodes very well in terms of your smoothly transitioning into the court into the new role now of chief justice.
I congratulate you.
SPECTER: Thank you very much, Senator Grassley.