Roberts and Alito Misled Us
By Edward M. Kennedy Sunday, 30 July, 2006
The careful, bipartisan process of years past -- like so many checks and balances rooted in our Constitution -- has been badly broken by the current Bush administration. The result has been the confirmation of two justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., whose voting record on the court reflects not the neutral, modest judicial philosophy they promised the Judiciary Committee, but an activist's embrace of the administration's political and ideological agenda.
Now that the votes are in from their first term, we can see plainly the agenda that Roberts and Alito sought to conceal from the committee. Our new justices consistently voted to erode civil liberties, decrease the rights of minorities and limit environmental protections. At the same time, they voted to expand the power of the president, reduce restrictions on abusive police tactics and approve federal intrusion into issues traditionally governed by state law.
At a time when great legal issues are being decided by the slimmest of margins, we cannot afford to learn nominees' views only after they have obtained lifetime tenure on our highest court. Instead, the Judiciary Committee, the Senate and the American Bar Association need to work together to return to an honest confirmation process. I support reform despite my belief that the next justice will be nominated by a Democratic president and be sent to a Democratic Senate for confirmation.
The discussion should start with a few truths. First, any qualified nominee to the Supreme Court will have spent many years thinking about legal issues. We should require that nominees share that thinking with the Judiciary Committee, and not pretend that such candor is tantamount to prejudging specific cases. In particular, the Senate should have the same access to the nominee's writings as the administration. Second, the Judiciary Committee will need to reorganize the way it asks questions. An in-depth inquiry will require something more than short rounds of questions that pass from senator to senator. Third, we need to remember what this process is all about. It is good to hear that a nominee has a loving family, faithful friends and a sense of humor. It is important to know that nominees possess the intellect, life experience and discipline that make a good judge. But it is essential that we learn enough of their legal views to be certain that they will make good on the simple promise etched in marble outside the Supreme Court: "Equal Justice Under Law."