A "dignified" process? Don't bet on it

Bush's Supreme Court nominee had a rocky road to the court of appeals.

Published July 20, 2005 1:29AM (EDT)

Just after announcing that he has chosen John Roberts as his nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, George W. Bush called on the Senate to engage in a "dignified confirmation process that is conducted with fairness and civility," and he cited the fact that the Senate confirmed Roberts to the D.C. Circuit on a voice vote.

But the road to that confirmation was a rocky one, and it wasn't the "kindly" kind of process that Bush said he wants for his Supreme Court nominee. George H.W. Bush first nominated Roberts to the D.C. Circuit in 1992, but his nomination died when Bill Clinton was elected president. The current president nominated Roberts again in 2001, but Roberts didn't get a floor vote in the Senate until 2003. Along the way, Democrats Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer and Dick Durbin all voted against his nomination in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the deliberations devolved into partisan bickering.

During Roberts' confirmation hearing in April 2003, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch came unglued on Schumer. "Some [of his questions] I totally disagree with," Hatch said. "Some I think are dumbass questions, between you and me. I am not kidding you. I mean, as much as I love and respect you, I just think that's true."

Schumer asked Hatch if he had heard him correctly and then if Hatch would like to "revise and extend his remark." Hatch declined. "No," he said, "I am going to keep it exactly the way it is. I mean, I hate to say it. I mean, I feel badly saying it between you and me. But I do know dumbass questions when I see dumbass questions."

More of the same is almost sure to come as the Senate takes up Roberts' nomination even though Senate Democrats were careful Tuesday night to say that they weren't prejudging a nominee that many of them must find deeply troubling. Although NARAL Pro-Choice America condemned Roberts' nomination out of the box and People for the American Way said the nominee's record raises "serious concerns and questions about where he stands on crucial legal and constitutional issues," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was keeping his powder dry -- at least for now. "The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry," Reid said in a statement. "The Senate must review Judge Roberts' record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness."

In a press conference held just after Bush made his announcement, Schumer and Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke in measured tones as they vowed thorough consideration of Roberts' record as a lawyer and as a judge. Leahy said that questions about the "honesty, integrity and fairness of the nominee" cannot be considered off-limits. Schumer said that it was "vital" that Roberts "answer a wide range of questions openly, honestly and fully in the coming months." Among those questions, it is safe to assume, will be some that Orrin Hatch would call "dumbass."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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