Friday, July 27, 2007

Specter to probe Supreme Court decisions By: Carrie Budoff

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plans to review the Senate testimony of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito to determine if their reversal of several long-standing opinions conflicts with promises they made to senators to win confirmation.

Specter, who championed their confirmation, said Tuesday he will personally re-examine the testimony to see if their actions in court match what they told the Senate.

'There are things he has said, and I want to see how well he has complied with it,' Specter said, singling out Roberts. ...

Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who served as chairman during the hearings, said he wants to examine whether Roberts and Alito have "lived up" to their assurances that they would respect legal precedents.

Judicial independence is "so important," Specter said, but an examination could help with future nominations. "I have done a lot of analyzing and have come to the conclusion that these nominees answer just as many questions as they have to."

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a Judiciary Committee member who voted against both nominees, said a review "could lead us to have a different approach." He said senators need to be "more probing" with their questioning of nominees.

"Certainly Justice Roberts left a distinct impression of his service as chief justice. And his performance on the court since, I think, has been in conflict with many of the statements he has made privately, as well as to the committee," said Durbin, who was unaware of Specter's idea.

"They are off to a very disturbing start, these two new justices. I am afraid before long they will call into question some of the most established laws and precedents in our nation."

The idea for a review came to Specter when he said he ran into Justice Stephen G. Breyer at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. ..."I only noticed it in a couple of cases," Specter said of the court overturning or undermining precedents. But Breyer, in their Aspen conversation, said "there were eight."...

"The reality is, although John Roberts and Samuel Alito promised to follow precedent, they either explicitly or implicitly overruled precedent," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University law professor.

"It is important to point out how the confirmation hearings were a sham. There is nothing you can do about it now; they are there for life. But it is important as we look to future hearings."


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