Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sen. Specter asks Roberts about judicial activism


Sen. Specter asks Roberts about judicial activism

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was warned on Monday that he will face questions at his confirmation hearings about whether he agreed with "judicial activism" on the court that sought to scale back Congress' authority.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, who will be running the hearings, wrote to the nominee to say he would be asking about two landmark Supreme Court decisions in the last decade that limited Congress' powers under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"What is your thinking on the jurisprudence of U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison, which overturned almost 60 years of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause?" Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, asked.

He said he wanted to give Roberts some "advance notice" of questions he would raise at hearings starting on Sept. 6.

"I do see a great deal of popular and Congressional dissatisfaction with the judicial activism; and, at a minimum, the Senate's determination to confirm new justices who will respect Congress' constitutional role," Specter wrote.

President Bush nominated Roberts, a federal appeals judge, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream conservative who often cast the decisive vote on the closely divided court.

O'Connor ruled with the majority of the court in both the Lopez and Morrison decisions, which were decided 5-4 and limited Congress' ability to use the commerce clause to intervene in non-commercial interstate matters.

In the 1995 U.S. v. Lopez case, the court struck down a law banning firearms near schools, while in the 2000 U.S. v. Morrison case, the court invalidated part of the federal Violence against Women Act.

Specter's letter to Roberts made no mention of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and is expected to be a subject at the confirmation hearings.

Instead Specter complained of the "abrupt reversals" of the Lopez and Morrison cases and added that members of Congress were irate about the Court's "denigrating and really, disrespectful statements about Congress' competence."

Specter is not the first senator to mention the commerce clause issue since Roberts' nomination. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a judiciary committee Democrat, pressed Roberts about it in a recent meeting and said afterwards he was convinced Roberts would not "shrink the commerce clause."

The Senate's leading Democrat meanwhile asked the Bush administration to reconsider its refusal to release internal documents written by Roberts while at the Justice Department.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said senators needed to see the documents from the years Roberts served as deputy solicitor general in order to examine 50-year-old conservative's candidacy effectively.

"I urge the White House to reconsider this initial decision, and to work cooperatively with Judiciary Committee Democrats so that the Senate can do its job more effectively," Reid said in a statement.