Specter Investigating Roberts and Alito Testimony
Arlen Specter thinks he was hoodwinked by John Roberts and Samuel Alito during their confirmation hearings. Essentially, they told the Senate that they were very respectful of precedent and Specter thinks their actions on the Court have broken what amounts to a promise.
Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who served as chairman during the hearings, said he wants to examine whether Roberts and Alito have “lived up” to their assurances that they would respect legal precedents. Judicial independence is “so important,” Specter said, but an examination could help with future nominations. “I have done a lot of analyzing and have come to the conclusion that these nominees answer just as many questions as they have to.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a Judiciary Committee member who voted against both nominees, said a review “could lead us to have a different approach.” He said senators need to be “more probing” with their questioning of nominees. “Certainly Justice Roberts left a distinct impression of his service as chief justice. And his performance on the court since, I think, has been in conflict with many of the statements he has made privately, as well as to the committee,” said Durbin, who was unaware of Specter’s idea. “They are off to a very disturbing start, these two new justices. I am afraid before long they will call into question some of the most established laws and precedents in our nation.”
Now, aside from impeachment, there’s nothing Specter and Durbin can do about this. The idea that they could be “more probing” and get meaningful answers from prospective Justices is silly. Any nominee worth his salt will decline to make specific assurances on votes, citing “judicial independence.”
Further, vague promises about “strict construction,” “interpreting the Constitution as written,” and “respecting precedent” are meaningless in application. Roberts and Alito have indeed voted to overturn some longstanding precedents. But Alito merely said that, “there needs to be a special justification for overruling a prior precedent.” Do Specter and Durbin really think he didn’t think he had a good reason for ruling as he did in cases overturning precedents?