Roberts Repeatedly Dodges Roe V. Wade

By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 44 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - John Roberts kissed his wife and then, like clockwork, his Supreme Court confirmation hearing was gaveled to order at 9:30 a.m. sharp on Tuesday. By 9:40, he already had dodged at least four questions.

"I feel the need to stay away from a discussion of specific cases," he said.

"I think I should stay away from discussion of specific issues," he demurred.

"I do feel compelled to point that I should not ... agree or disagree with particular decisions," he persisted.

"That's something that I'm going to have to draw the line in the sand," he offered.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., had wasted no time in grilling Roberts on one of the big issues of the day — Roe v. Wade — and Roberts wasted no time in displaying his skills at the artful dodge.

"Would you think that Roe might be a super-duper precedent?" Specter probed, pointing to times it has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Roberts did assure Specter that Roe "is settled as the precedent of the court."

But he declined to be as explicit as Specter sought, signaling it would be a long day of questioning for senators seeking specifics on a whole range of issues. The 18 senators of the Judiciary Committee were allotted 30 minutes each to question the nominee for chief justice of the United States.

In a discussion on war powers, Roberts said, "I don't want to answer a particular hypothetical that could come before the court."

Questioned about family rights, he offered, "I think nominees have to draw the line where they're comfortable."

On voting rights, he said, "The cases come up all the time and I do need to avoid expressing an opinion on those issues."

It was all too much for a clearly frustrated Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del., who declared at one point: "Go ahead and continue not to answer."

It was the second day of Roberts' confirmation hearing, and the setting had shifted from the grand and historic Caucus Room in the Senate's Russell office building to a larger but less majestic hearing room in the Hart office building.

The questions quickly jumped among hot-button issues of the day — abortion, gay rights, war powers, torture of enemy prisoners among them. And Roberts, known for his unflappability when under questioning, seemed ready.

He tried to reassure senators about his views on the issues without revealing too much. He deftly wielded the Latin term "stare decisis," for standing by past decisions.

"While I'm happy to talk about stare decisis and the importance of precedent, I don't think I should get into the application of those principles in a particular area," he said.