In arguably his most important non-war decision since taking office, President George W. Bush on Tuesday chose John Roberts Jr., a federal appeals judge, to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court left by Sandra Day O’Connor.
Little is known about the conservative judge. His record has been called enigmatic, and his stance on a number of key issues is unknown. For that reason, it is to be hoped that Congress scrutinizes Roberts closely during the confirmation process.
Roberts worked for Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. during their presidencies and donated money to President George W. Bush’s election campaigns, so there is no doubt as to his politics. Just how far he is to the right of the political spectrum, though, is unknown.
Despite his short record as an appeals judge, Roberts’ track record raises troubling questions, particularly with his stance on abortion.
While arguing before the Supreme Court as deputy solicitor general on behalf of the first Bush administration, Roberts wrote, “We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled … the Court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion … finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution.”
In 1990, while working for the first Bush administration, he argued in favor of banning abortion-related counseling for families who lived in federally financed homes.
Pro-life groups are already viewing the nomination as a first step by Bush to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Despite consulting both parties leading up to the nomination, no one could have seriously expected Bush to choose a moderate like O’Connor to fill the vacancy. Nevertheless, the nomination system is designed to ensure that candidates are acceptable across the political spectrum. Although outnumbered, it is the duty of Democrats to be skeptical of this nomination and to shed light on Roberts’ views on a range of issues.
With O’Connor — who frequently cast swing votes on important issues such as abortion, the death penalty and states’ rights — out of the picture, the appointment of Roberts has the potential to change the country drastically.
If Roberts is confirmed, the ideological balance of the court will likely swing to the right. Congress’ job is to ensure that the swing won’t be detrimental to the country.