Senate Democrats Want Memos on John Roberts’ Abortion Views

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 25, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Democrats Want Memos on John Roberts’ Abortion Views Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 25, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Senate Democrats are looking for memos from the Justice Department that they say could help more accurately determine where Supreme Court nominee John Roberts stands on the controversial issue of abortion.

Roberts is thought to be pro-life, in part because he participated in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court as the principal Deputy Solicitor General during the first Bush administration.

Roberts argued in the brief that "[w]e continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. [T]he Court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion … finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."

Roberts was one of nine attorneys who signed their names to the brief for the president.

On Friday, Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat not on the committee that will hold confirmation hearings, called on the White House to release "in their entirety" all documents and memos from Roberts’ tenure in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

"We cannot do our duty if either Judge Roberts or the Bush administration hides elements of his professional record," the former presidential candidate said.

The memos could have some bearing on determining how involved Roberts was in the brief and whether it reflected his own views, those of another Bush attorney or just former President Bush’s views.

Though not speaking specifically about abortion or the legal brief, Roberts, during his confirmation hearings in 2003 for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, said legal briefs he filed for others don’t necessarily represent his views.

Meanwhile, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, a member of the Judiciary Committee, plans to ask Roberts directly about his abortion views. Sen. Schumer was one of just three Democrats on the panel to oppose Roberts’ bid for the appeals court.

The questions Schumer said he would ask include: "Do you believe that Roe v. Wade … was correctly decided? What is your view of the quality of the legal reasoning in that case? Do you believe that it reached the right result?"

During the 2003 hearings, committee members asked Roberts about his abortion views.

He described Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized unlimited abortion, as "the settled law of the land."

"There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent," he said.

However, many court observers say the answer was a political one he had to give as an appellate court nominee and not suggestive of Roberts’ real views on the subject.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, last Thursday, told ABC’s "Good Morning America" that appeals court nominees, unlike candidates for the Supreme Court, have to show respect for precedent.

As a Supreme Court justice, Roberts would be free to reconsider and overturn prior Supreme Court rulings, including Roe.

"When you’re a circuit court judge like Judge Roberts is today, you must respect and adhere to precedent of the Supreme Court. Once you become a Supreme Court justice, that is not necessarily so," Gonzales said.

Abortion advocates agree and Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion group, said, "He chose to be a member of an administration with pro-life views at a time when those views were very, very relevant. That says a great deal."