Reid Will Vote Against Roberts

The prepared text of a floor speech by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid announcing a 'no' vote on the confirmation of John Roberts has been posted at Raw Story. Reid lays out a solid argument against the confirmation, citing Roberts' evasive answers to simple questions during the hearings. Though the media has been falling all over itself to sing Roberts praises because he's smart and seems nice, Reid makes the case that such qualities aren't nearly enough.

Following is a fair bit of the speech, but see Raw Story for the complete version.

Let me start by observing that Judge Roberts has been a thoughtful, mainstream judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. But he has only been a member of that court for two years and has not confronted many cutting-edge constitutional issues. As a result, we cannot rely on his current judicial service to determine what kind of Supreme Court justice he would be.

I was very impressed with Judge Roberts when I first met him, soon after he was nominated. But several factors caused me to reassess my initial view.

Most notably, I was disturbed by the memos that surfaced from Judge Roberts's years of service in the Reagan Administration. These memos raise serious questions about the nominee's approach to civil rights.

It is now clear that as a young lawyer, John Roberts played a significant role in shaping and advancing the Republican agenda to roll back civil rights protections. He wrote memos opposing legislative and judicial efforts to remedy race and gender discrimination. He urged his superiors to oppose Senator Kennedy's 1982 bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and worked against affirmative action programs. He derided the concept of comparable worth and questioned whether women actually suffer discrimination in the workplace.

No one suggests that John Roberts was motivated by bigotry or animosity towards minorities or women. But these memos lead one to question whether he truly appreciated the history of the civil rights struggle. He wrote about discrimination as an abstract concept, not as a flesh and blood reality for countless of his fellow citizens. The memos raised a real question for me whether their author would breathe life into the Equal Protection Clause and the landmark civil rights statutes that come before the Supreme Court repeatedly.

Nonetheless, I was prepared to look past these memos, and chalk them up to the folly of youth. I looked forward to the confirmation hearings in the expectation that Judge Roberts would repudiate those views in some fashion. Instead, the nominee adopted what I consider a disingenuous strategy of suggesting that the views expressed in those memos were not his views, even at the time the memos were written. He claimed that he was merely a "staff lawyer" reflecting the positions of his client, the Reagan Administration.

Anyone who has read the memos can see that Roberts was expressing his own personal views on these important policy matters. In memo after memo, the text is clear. It is simply not plausible for the nominee to claim that he did not share the views that he expressed.
. . .
My concerns about these Reagan-era memos were heightened by the fact that the White House rejected a reasonable request by Committee Democrats for documents written by Judge Roberts when he served in the first Bush Administration. After all, if memos written twenty years ago are to be dismissed as not reflecting the nominee's mature thinking, it would be highly relevant to see memos he had written as an older man in an even more important policymaking job.

The White House claim of attorney-client privilege to shield these documents is utterly unpersuasive. Senator Leahy asked Attorney General Gonzales for the courtesy of a meeting to discuss the matter and was turned down. This was simply a matter of stonewalling.

The failure of the White House to produce relevant documents is reason enough for any Senator to oppose this nomination. The Administration cannot treat the Senate with such disrespect without some consequences.

In the absence of these documents, it was especially important for the nominee to fully and forthrightly answer questions from Committee members at his hearing. He failed to do so adequately. I acknowledge the right - indeed, the duty - of a judicial nominee to decline to answer questions regarding specific cases that will come before the court to which the witness has been nominated. But Judge Roberts declined to answer many questions more remote than that, including questions seeking his views of long-settled precedents.
. . .
I like Judge Roberts. I respect much of the work he has done in his career, such as his advocacy for environmentalists in the Lake Tahoe takings case several years ago. In the fullness of time, he may well prove to be a fine Supreme Court Justice. 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.

Based on all of these factors, the balance shifts against Judge Roberts. The question is close, and the arguments against him do not warrant extraordinary procedural tactics to block the nomination. Nonetheless, I intend to cast my vote against this nominee when the Senate debates the matter next week.

This seems to me like a perfectly reasonable position for all Senate Democrats to take.

Tags: Judges (all tags)

Comments

29 Comments

YES! Thank You Senator Reed!
I hope the other Senators take note and follow Reed's commonsense example.  It's good politics, too.  Republican were goint to go after Dems no matter what, a clear no vote based on commonsense grounds sets the stage for the next fight and, too, it gives the Dems an opportunity to begin to set their own terms.
by bedobe 2005-09-20 11:14AM | 0 recs
PS.
My only criticism is that Reed has been too generous with his praise of Roberts.  Look, am sure Roberts is a fine guy and if I were a lawyer, am sure I would appreciate his legal talents far more than I otherwise do; however, with such praise, Reed undercuts his criticism and conclusion.  Roberts simply didn't provide satisfactory answers at such a crucial and divisive time in our country -- Senators and Americans in general, deserve a nominee that's far more forthcoming.  The position is about more than credentials, it's about our Constitution and, therefore, about what America stands for.
by bedobe 2005-09-20 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: PS.
I disagree. There's nothing wrong witn being gracious (aka human). War all the time may play well on the blogosphere but it's pretty tiresome to the civilians.
by ignatzmouse 2005-09-20 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: PS.
I agree. You can make your point intelligently and show some class doing it, as Reid did. No need to act like Cheney.
by blogus 2005-09-20 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: PS.
I have to disagree as well.  If you ignore Ideology and stick with Historical Precident (that a justice need not have an extensive record as a judge), Roberts is a good nominee given his long history of arguing before the court, he has a great perspective on the court.  It is hard to judge on Ideology based on his limited experience on the bench.  So to me Reid nails it with his reasons being the evasive answers.  Honestly, if Roberts had come in and lied, saying he won't over turn R v W, etc... My guess is most Senators would vote for him.  Reid was right to say things are close on the decision.  And he was right to say that the reason was because he wouldn't answer the question.  Reid gave a good speech that shows opposition, while not coming off like an asshole.  That has been our weakness... the fear that we would come off like an ass and middle America would go vote GOP.  Reid shows a way for some of the old guard to accomplish this.
by yitbos96bb 2005-09-20 12:00PM | 0 recs
File his speech away
next to the Kerry/Edwards speeches yesterday and the video of HRC on all three morning shows this month, in the drawer filled with other recent examples of our leaders speaking out and opposing the GOP.

Make sure you have easy access to this drawer next time someone cries and whines about Democratic leaders never saying anything about this, that or the other....

by Sam Loomis 2005-09-20 11:57AM | 0 recs
At the risk of pissing people off...
I don't agree with Judge Roberts known opinions, and despise Bush with a passion, but...I think this guy is about as good as we're going to get from this administration.  

In a REASONABLE conservative administration geared toward good government, I would even consider voting in favor of the guy, since he is a capable and respectable jurist from what I can tell.  HOWEVER, given the current political environment, and the irresistible urge to kick the administration in the groin now that they are weakened, I completely endorse Reid's apparent stance of voting against the nomination as an act of political defiance, if not convincing disgust.  

My suspicion is that once Roberts' is approved--and he of course will be--he will turn out to be a stealth moderate like Souter--NOT another Scalia or Thomas.

Regarding Reid's gentlemanly deference to Roberts--we MIGHT not want to unnnecessarily piss off a future Supreme Court justice, for our own future self-interest.

by paul minot 2005-09-20 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: At the risk of pissing people off...
he will turn out to be a stealth moderate like Souter

Why do you think that?  Was it Roberts' answers to questions during the hearings make you feel that he is a moderate in disguise?  Did you get to see some of the witheld documents from his time as Solicitor General ?

To me he is a big question mark.  Very few people know much about him.  The people that know the most are in this administration, and none of them have been very moderate at all. So really, what can you point to that justifies your feelings that he is the next Souter?

by avagias 2005-09-20 12:35PM | 0 recs
The Reason You Piss People Off
is that you "reason" like a Republican:
My suspicion is that once Roberts' is approved--and he of course will be--he will turn out to be a stealth moderate like Souter--NOT another Scalia or Thomas.
There is not one scintilla of evidence to support such a notion and there's everything in the world to speak against it.  

To start with, Souter was not a part of the Federalist Society cabal, much less did he try to hide his involvement.  As a corralary, he didn't take part in the theft of the presidency. Nor did he pledge his soul to the service of Satan.

(The last point is "My suspicion," included here, just to balance yours.)

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-09-20 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Reason You Piss People Off
"My suspicion..." is just a gut call, very possibly wrong.  I have no other justification for it.  I admit it.  

I do not reason like a Republican.  I reason like a person that does not loathe all Republicans.  I DO, however, loathe Bush, and said myself that I would vote against Roberts under the current circumstances.  

by paul minot 2005-09-21 08:33AM | 0 recs
Reasoning Like A Republican
Talking about "gut calls" without a shred of evidence is reasoning like a Republican. No ifs, ands or buts.

More to the point, talking about "gut calls" that go against substantial evidence is even more typical of reasoning like a Republican.

And, for the record, I do not loathe all Republicans.  I loathe what they do in office.  The world, alas, is full of pleasant people who do horrible things.  

Moral: one does not have to be simple-minded to see the monolithic nature of the evil we face.  One can both see monolithic evil and recognize enormous subtleties as well.

This was, after all, one of the fundamental premises of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-09-21 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Reasoning Like A Republican
'Talking about "gut calls" without a shred of evidence is reasoning like a Republican. No ifs, ands or buts.'

Really?  I thought making blanket declarations and brooking no dissent was thinking like a Republican.  Then citing "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--beats quoting the Bible, I guess!

Well, I obviously can't argue with THAT!

by paul minot 2005-09-21 08:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Reasoning Like A Republican
By the way, I'm quite willing to admit that my "suspicion" may be no more than wishful thinking.  I'm an optimist by nature.  

It's not like I think that will make any difference.  I hope he may be a stealth moderate, you fear he is a blood-sucking demon spawn.  Either way, he's our next Chief Justice--and not by ANY means somebody that I would nominate, ever.

So what's the big whoop?    

by paul minot 2005-09-21 09:00AM | 0 recs
Re: At the risk of pissing people off...
I think that there is a flaw in your logic.  You seem to argue that 1) this is the best we can expect from Bush; and thus 2) we ought to support it.  But 2 simply does not follow from 1.  If this is the best we can expect from Bush, and it is inadequate, then we should oppose it.  Clinton actually compromised with Republicans on the Ginsburg and Bryer nominations, and famously it was Hatch who suggested Breyer.  Both of them are far more moderate than Roberts is.

Let's think of it this way: let's assume that this is the best we'll get from Bush, and we oppose it, and thus he is defeated. (This won't happen, but it is the primary way in which your scenario could be harmful.).  Why is there any reason to think that if Bush appoints a MORE extreme nominee that he (or more likely) she couldn't also be defeated?

People seem to think that because Roberts has not said that he would overturn the last 100 years of precedent, then that somehow makes him a "moderate".  That's Defining Moderation Down.  Bill Rehnquist was no moderate.  And neither is Roberts.  He is an extremely conservative judge.  There is simply no reason to support him, especially as, as Reid pointed out, he was evasive in his answers to questions.

I suspect that the real fear in you argument is that by opposing Roberts, the Democrats will be labeled as "obstructionist."  Assume that they are.  I have yet to see any real data that shows that this does them any damage outside the Beltway punditry.  The job of an opposition is to oppose.  

I think that there is just as good of a case to be made that it will strength the Dems to vigorously oppose Bush.  Josh Marshall accurately refers to this as Karl Rove's "bitch-slap" theory of politics: if the Dems can't oppose Bush, then how can they oppose Bin Laden?  I believe that more voters respect principled strength than weak-kneed temporizing.

by JZasloff 2005-09-20 12:59PM | 0 recs
Re: At the risk of pissing people off...
Did you read my post, really?  

If you had REALLY read my post, then you would have noted that I would NOT support Roberts under the current circumstances, but in fact vote against him.  I indicated that we should in fact do everything we can to bloody Bush while he is politically wounded.  DOES THAT SOUND LIKE SOMEBODY WHO IS AFRAID OF BEING LABELLED AN "OBSTRUCTIONIST"??!!

Your bad.  

by paul minot 2005-09-21 08:37AM | 0 recs
I'm not pissed off...
But I disagree.

My hometown's high school football team is... well, they're pretty pathetic. Passing, especially, is one of those things that they just don't seem to get. It's painful to watch them lose game after game 33-0.

But even when they know they're going to lose, they put up one hell of a fight. They try their best, and, while they don't win, sometimes they make it close. Sometimes, they come within a field goal of winning.

(Hey, if Roberts can use baseball references, I can use a football story, can't I?)

With the Roberts nomination, everyone has known that he'll get confirmed. But that's no reason not to fight. A strict 55-45 vote would show everyone that Democrats are willing to stand up and say "Enough of this crap you're pulling" once in a while. Even a 70-30 vote would send a powerful message.

And if we make it close, sure it might take a lot of energy, but it'll pump up the base for the O'Connor replacement-- one that we've got to fight for.

And as for Roberts being the best we can expect out of Bush, I don't buy that way of thinking. If Roberts somehow does lose the confirmation vote, we can force him to pick someone more moderate. It might not happen, but what's wrong with trying to make it happen?

by Fitzy 2005-09-20 04:52PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not pissed off...
AGAIN, in my post I actually advocate voting against Roberts AS AN ACT OF POLITICAL DEFIANCE.  Isn't that more or less what you are saying here, despite our differences in our assessment of Roberts himself?

You guys got ADD or something?  Or do I need to avoid nuanced political reasoning?

by paul minot 2005-09-21 08:41AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not pissed off...
Yeah, okay, you caught me. After I wrote all that, I went back and read your post again more closely, and realized that my reply really didn't address what you said...

However, let's see if I can save a dying argument against you. :-p

Voting against Roberts might be opposing him, but I'd much rather have vocal opposition. As in, every single Democrat makes a speech on the floor of the Senate floor outlining their reasons why he's not a good choice for the future of our country. Coordinated speeches, that make good soundbites on the evening news. Doing that might be enough pressure to A.) make sure the Democrats are solid in opposition and B.) maybe pull a few Republicans-- and the American people in general-- to our side.

Basically, it amounts to this: You're right, voting no is a good act of defiance, but I'd be happier with more. We can't just accept that he's the best we can get, we should work as hard as we can to get someone else-- because we just might.

How'd I do? Did I salvage my arguement?

by Fitzy 2005-09-21 12:37PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not pissed off...
Yeah, if you're going to vote against Roberts to nail Bush's ass, you should raise some hell as well.  I mean, it's all about drawing blood.

Subtleties aside, I'm pretty comfortable with Reid's stance.  I see him as a political Yoda--kinda old and frail-looking, but wise and able to kick ass with the best of them.

by paul minot 2005-09-22 05:31AM | 0 recs
Get to point, Reid.
Why don't these senators ever start with a thesis sentence?  They know that the press is going to shorten their talk to a 1-2 sentence sound bite.  They know that journalists are too lazy to read past the first paragraph.  You'd think they would use that knowledge.

If I'd been giving this speech, I'd have started like this:

"I am here to announce that because of Robert's evasiveness, I cannot vote to confirm.  Throughout his testimony, Roberts refused to answer most of the questions we posed, and documents about his background are still being kept under lock and key.  We cannot in good conscience confirm a man who is so clearly hiding something."

Then he could have gone on about the details.

by joshyelon 2005-09-20 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Get to point, Reid.
I think Reid struck a fine tone.  I think being gracious is the right approach. But also making it clear Roberts' strategy backfired because we are left believing he revealed his true opinions and there is nothing from his more recent writiubngs that would suggest he has really matured in any way.  

BTW, I think Reid is doing this in part to put pressure on Chafee and Snowe.  Ol' Hamlet Chafee is not going to oppose Roberts all alone with the Dems, and now Specter won't be with him either.  So either Olympia holds his hand (and then announces she's not running for reelection, freeing her to vote her conscience whenever she likes), or Chafee will vote to confirm Roberts like he voted for Bolton.  Then his Dem opponent can point to Reid and say "Our Party won't appoint or confirm judges who are not more forthcoming and strong in their support of privacy rights.  A vote for Chafee is a vote for Bush."  Smart move by Reid.

by Mimikatz 2005-09-20 02:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Get to point, Reid.
Actually it's a bigger net than you think.

The reality is that Reid wants to pummel the pro-choice Republicans in the Senate because Roberts liked to play possum on his record. It's not just Chafee (though he is close to reelection) but Snowe, Collins, Specter, Murkowski, Hutchinson, and Martinez.

Remember, even if Roberts has a small paper trail now, the Chief Justice invariably builds one...and choice is one of those issues where the Democrats will be able to really make hay with certain Republicans who vote for him.

But by the same token, some Democrats may also choose not to bite if they aren't worried about being tied to Roberts' potential judiial legacy.

by risenmessiah 2005-09-21 01:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Get to point, Reid.
Just to be clear, I didn't post the entirety of the speech.  Raw Story did.  Here it is:

One of the Senate's most important constitutional responsibilities is to provide "advice and consent" with respect to a President's nominations. The task is especially important when the nomination is of an individual to be the Chief Justice of the United States.

No one doubts that John Roberts is an excellent lawyer and an affable person. But at the end of this process, I have too many unanswered questions about the nominee to justify a vote confirming him to this enormously important lifetime position.

I'm not sure if you were responding to my excerpts or to the full speech, as he did wait to say he wasn't voting to confirm until the second paragraph. Still, it's only the fourth sentence, so I'd cut him a bit of slack.

by Scott Shields 2005-09-20 05:04PM | 0 recs
At least we know...
...Roberts understands the Fifth Amendment.  He has done everything in his power to avoid self-incrimination.
by KTinOhio 2005-09-20 03:52PM | 0 recs
Reid Speech Superb Politics
Senator Reid has struck just the right notes here to help the Democratic Party. Judge Roberts is painted as friendly, yet lacking demonstrated empathy which keeps him from understanding civil rights for women and minorities (emphasis and bullets mine).
"Most notably, I was disturbed by the memos that surfaced from Judge Roberts's years of service in the Reagan Administration. These memos raise serious questions about the nominee's approach to civil rights.

"It is now clear that as a young lawyer, John Roberts played a significant role in shaping and advancing the Republican agenda to roll back civil rights protections.

  • He wrote memos opposing legislative and judicial efforts to remedy race and gender discrimination.
  • He urged his superiors to oppose Senator Kennedy's 1982 bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and worked against affirmative action programs.
  • He derided the concept of comparable worth and questioned whether women actually suffer discrimination in the workplace.

But these memos lead one to question whether he truly appreciated the history of the civil rights struggle. He wrote about discrimination as an abstract concept, not as a flesh and blood reality for countless of his fellow citizens.

In another memo Judge Roberts spoke about a Hispanic group that President Reagan would soon address, and he suggested that the audience would be pleased to know that the Administration favored legal status for the "illegal amigos" of the audience members. The use of the Spanish word "amigos" in this memo is patronizing and offensive to a contemporary reader.

Senator Reid is rightly highlighting the possibility, gleaned from the early writings of John Roberts himself, that Roberts is unsympathetic to minorities and cannot empathize with their plight. Reid argues that because Roberts has not been forthcoming, we just don't know if those impressions are true. Thus, it may turn out that he is not what we fear, but on the question of voting to confirm, Harry Reid must vote to oppose because Roberts has withheld his true beliefs from the Senate.

Regardless of how the mystery that is Roberts ultimately performs as a Supreme Court Chief Justice, Senator Reid has shown why yet again the Democratic Party is favored by minorities and women.

Democrats, far more than Republicans can be counted on to go to bat for the disadvantaged and to put their interests before corporate interests as do the Bush Republicans. Senator Reid wisely uses the nomination of Judge Roberts to make these broader points about the ethics of the Democratic Party contrasted with the completely unsympathetic corporatists and white theocrats that are the modern Republican Party.

With this vote Senator Reid also sets a standard for the next nominee.

"Based on all of these factors, the balance shifts against Judge Roberts. The question is close, and the arguments against him do not warrant extraordinary procedural tactics to block the nomination. Nonetheless, I intend to cast my vote against this nominee when the Senate debates the matter next week."

Judge Roberts has made a generally good impression with a majority of the population and has generated only spotty resistance from the left. Nevertheless, Senator Reid will vote against him and judges this a close call.

Nominees for the next vacancy had better not have documented any anti-civil rights opinions, or they will be rejected by Senator Reid with his personal vote at the least. If they are less acceptable than the unacceptable Judge John Roberts, then Senate Minority Leader Reid may be expected to call for a filibuster.

by Curt Matlock 2005-09-20 07:18PM | 0 recs
Consolation Prize
IMHO,Reid's speech wasn't a serious effort to derail Roberts' nomination. It certainly had considerable praise for Roberts, readily acknowledged reasonable Democrats could & ruled out a filibuster. I think the main purpose was to keep peace with the interest groups such as NARAL, NOW & PFAW that have built their membership & filled their coffers by hyping the "threat to the Court" and their role in defending it. They had to oppose a Bush appointee or risk losing credibility with their own supporters. They seek a large Democratic vote against Roberts for the same reason.

By coming out early against Roberts, Reid was throwing a bone to these groups and easing the pressure on other Senate Democrats, since having the Democratic Leader on board supports the validity of the anti-Roberts position even if the overall vote count doesn't.  I think Reid knows that opposing Roberts is a losing proposition politically, as demonstrated by the pro-confirmation editorials at such unlikely sites such as the Boston Globe, Washingtion Post & Los Angeles Times.  Since Harry is taking 1 for the team, as few of his colleagues as possible should follow suit.

by SLinVA 2005-09-20 07:55PM | 0 recs
Leahy appears to be voting Yes
Patrick-are you listening to your fellow Vermont Democrat- Howard Dean? Guess not. Or your Democratic Senate Leader, Reid? Guess not. This will make all of the Republicans happy.
by ArousedNewsJulienDavid 2005-09-21 06:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Leahy appears to be voting Yes
Yeah, but anybody that compels Cheney to tell him to "Go fuck yourself" can't be ALL bad!
by paul minot 2005-09-21 08:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Leahy appears to be voting Yes
Definitely. Pat Leahy certainly has the Fighting Irish in him, but not on this one. I think he is giving Orin Hatch a tip of the cap, thank you, for Breyer.
by ArousedNewsJulienDavid 2005-09-21 11:28AM | 0 recs

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