Boxer to Filibuster Unless Roberts Backs Abortion
Barbara Boxer pledged yesterday that she will vote against John Roberts’ confirmation to the Supreme Court unless he promises to support abortion rights and to filibuster him if he refuses to answer specific questions.
Sen. Barbara Boxer said Wednesday she will vote against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts unless he supports rights she considers essential – – including abortion and privacy — and slow Senate business to a crawl if he doesn’t answer her questions. “I need to know exactly where he will stand, and I need to know if he will fight to protect and defend the rights and freedoms of the American people,” Boxer, D-Calif., told reporters after addressing a group of law students and abortion rights supporters at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Those rights, she said, include reproductive choice and the constitutional right of privacy that was the basis of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. Boxer said she was alarmed to learn that Roberts, as a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, referred in a 1981 memo to a “so-called right of privacy.”
Roberts must answer questions about his writings, his work on anti- abortion legal briefs, and his rulings as a federal appeals court judge, including a recent opinion that questioned federal authority to protect endangered species, Boxer said. If he declines, she said, she will “use all the parliamentary tools I’ve been given as a U.S. senator,” including procedures that “make it difficult for other business to get done until we get the information we need.” She did not threaten a filibuster, however, reflecting Democrats’ hesitation to embark on all-out political warfare against the nomination.
This is an outrageous abuse of her office. To say that “She did not threaten a filibuster” is disengenous, given that she threatened to “use all the parliamentary tools [she’s] been given as a U.S. senator.” The filibuster is, after all, one of those tools and the only meaningful one for a senator in the minority trying to stop a relatively uncontroversial nominee.
Traditionally, judicial nominees simply do not answer questions about cases that they may be asked to hear or comment on recent cases that are outside the realm of settled law. The rationale for that is to protect their independence, without which there is no separation of powers.
It’s true that presidents try to guess how their prospective nominees would vote if appointed to the bench. They do not, however, ask them to pledge to vote a certain way on the issues. A pledge made in open Senate hearings, though, would presumably be binding in a way that a generic promise to the president to “strictly interpret the law” would not.