Washington, DC – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following statement on the U.S. Senate floor before the full Senate vote on John Roberts for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Remarks as prepared.
“As I announced on the Senate floor last week, I intend to vote against the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States.
“I like John Roberts personally, and I respect his legal skills. I respect much of the work he has done in his career, such as his advocacy on the environmental side of the Lake Tahoe takings case several years ago. But at the end of the day, I have too many unanswered questions about the nominee to justify a vote confirming him to this lifetime position.
“Each Senator applies his or her own standard in carrying out the Advice and Consent Clause of the Constitution. I know that elections have consequences, and I agree that presidents are entitled to a measure of deference in appointing judicial nominees. After all, the Senate has confirmed over 200 of President Bush’s nominees, some of whom possess a judicial philosophy with which I disagree.
“But deference to the President only goes so far. Our Founding Fathers gave the Senate a central role in the nominations process, and that role is especially important in considering a Supreme Court nomination. If confirmed by the Senate, John Roberts will serve as Chief Justice of the United States and leader of the third branch of the federal government for decades to come. He will possess enormous legal authority.
“In my view, we should only vote to confirm this nominee if he has persuaded us that he will protect the freedoms that Americans hold dear. This is a very close question for me. But I will resolve my doubts in favor of the American people whose rights would be in jeopardy if John Roberts turns out to be the wrong person for the job.
“I was very impressed with Judge Roberts when I first met him, soon after he was nominated. I knew that he had been a thoughtful, non-ideological member of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for the past two years. But several factors caused me to reassess my initial view.
“Most notably, I was disturbed by memos that surfaced from Judge Roberts’s years of service in the Reagan Administration. These documents raise serious questions about the nominee’s approach to women’s rights and other civil rights.
“In my floor statement last week, I gave specific examples of the memos that concerned me. I also explained that I was prepared to look past these memos if the nominee distanced himself from these views at his Judiciary Committee hearings. But I was so disappointed when the nominee took the disingenuous stance that the views expressed in those memos were merely the views of his client, the Reagan Administration. Anyone who has read the memos can see that their author was expressing his personal opinions.
“My concerns about these Reagan-era memos were heightened when the White House rejected a reasonable request by Committee Democrats for documents written by the nominee when he served as Deputy Solicitor General in the first Bush Administration. The claim of attorney-client privilege to shield these documents was unpersuasive. This was stonewalling, plain and simple.
“In the absence of these documents, it was especially important for the nominee to fully answer questions from Committee members at his hearing. He did not do so adequately. Of course a judicial nominee should decline to answer questions regarding specific cases that will come before the court to which the witness has been nominated. But Judge Roberts refused to answer many questions more remote than that, including questions seeking his views of long-settled precedents.
“Finally, I was very swayed by the testimony of civil rights and women’s rights leaders against confirmation. Congressman John Lewis is a civil rights icon and a personal hero of mine. When John Lewis says that John Roberts was on the wrong side of history and should not be confirmed, his view carries great weight with me.
“So I weigh Judge Roberts’s fine resume and his two years of mainstream judicial service against the Reagan-era memos, the nominee’s unsatisfactory testimony and the Administration’s failure to produce relevant documents. I reluctantly conclude that the scale tips against confirmation.
“Some have accused Democrats of treating this nominee unfairly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the leadership of Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Leahy, the confirmation hearings in the Judiciary Committee were dignified. Each Democrat considered the nomination on the merits and approached the vote as a matter of conscience. Democrats have not employed any procedural tactics that we might have otherwise considered if the nominee were more extreme.
“The fact that some Democrats will vote no on this nomination is hardly unfair – we are simply doing our duty under the Constitution.
“In the fullness of time, John Roberts may well prove to be a fine Supreme Court Justice. I hope that he does, and if so I will happily admit that I was wrong in voting against his confirmation. But I have reluctantly concluded that this nominee has not satisfied the high burden that would justify my voting for his confirmation based on the current record.”