Monday, September 12, 2005

The Roberts Hearings

John Roberts reminds me of the Sleeping Beauty. There he lies, asleep, pristine, surrounded by rose bushes, waiting for the kiss from George Bush that would make him spring alive. But this is as far as the fairy tale goes, as I'm not quite sure what Roberts-awake would look like.

He hasn't been asleep, of course. He has been suave, polished, pleasant, intelligent and most destructive of the right to privacy, civil rights and the Commerce Clause (which matters for the federal government to be able to interfere in the aftermath of a hurricane, for example). In fact, he's so pleasant and nice that most beltway insiders find his appointment very natural. He is one of them. But the real Roberts is hidden somewhere deep inside the Sleeping Beauty, and I want that real Roberts to wake up and speak. Because we will have him around for something like three generations.

So what would Chief Justice Roberts do about Grizwold vs. The State of Connecticut, the famous forty-year-old case which decided that married couples can use contraception if they wish? If we don't have a right to privacy, according to Roberts, what else will fall by the wayside? Our right not to use contraception, say?

I don't know what Roberts plans to do, and it seems it's very bad manners to try to make him tell us:

But Republicans urged Roberts to be cautious in what he tells the committee about how he would rule on certain issues.

"Some have said that nominees who do not spill their guts about whatever a senator wants to know are hiding something from the American people," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Some compare a nominee's refusal to violate his judicial oath or abandon judicial ethics to taking the Fifth Amendment. These might be catchy sound bites, but they are patently false."

"Don't take the bait," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Roberts in the hearings. "Don't go down that road. Do exactly the same thing every nominee, Republican and Democrat alike, has done. Decline to answer any question that you feel would compromise your ability to do your job. The vast majority of the Senate, I am convinced, will not punish you for doing so."

The vast majority of the Senate are Republicans, so naturally they wouldn't punish their pal John. I might, though.

And what do we get instead of answers to questions about judicial philosophy? We get an analog to baseball:

"I come before this committee with no agenda, no platform," said Roberts in his brief opening remarks. "I will approach every case with an open mind."

And using a baseball metaphor, he compared his judicial role to that of an umpire, saying, "My job is to call balls and strikes, not pitch or bat."

Right. But what are the rules of the game you are umpiring, John? Are they the same rules the players believe in?

Wake up or go back to sleep.