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2005-09-13

Roberts at High Court Confirmation Hearing: "I Have No Agenda"

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The Senate opened confirmation hearings Monday for John Roberts to become the nation’s 17th chief justice. If confirmed, Roberts would be the youngest chief justice in two centuries and would be positioned to lead the court for decades. We play Roberts’ opening remarks. [includes rush transcript]

The Senate opened confirmation hearings Monday for John Roberts to become the nation’s 17th chief justice. If confirmed, Roberts would be the youngest chief justice in two centuries. And he would be positioned to lead the court for decades.

A federal appeals court judge for the past two years, Roberts served in the Republican administrations of President Ronald Reagan and the first President George Bush.

Monday’s hearing was devoted solely to opening statements — from the 18 eighteen members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the three senators chosen to introduce Roberts and from the nominee himself.

As the afternoon came to a close, Roberts was sworn in by committee chair Arlen Specter. Speaking without notes, Roberts gave a brief opening statement in which he outlined his view of the judiciary.

  • John Roberts, chief justice nominee.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the afternoon came to a close Roberts was sworn in by committee chair, Arlen Specter. Speaking without notes, he gave a brief opening statement in which he outlined his view of the judiciary. This Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS: Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.

Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath. And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench.

Mr. Chairman, when I worked in the Department of Justice in the office of the solicitor general, it was my job to argue cases for the United States before the Supreme Court. I always found it very moving to stand before the justices and say, "I speak for my country."

But it was after I left the department and began arguing cases against the United States that I fully appreciated the importance of the Supreme Court and our constitutional system. Here was the United States, the most powerful entity in the world, aligned against my client. And yet all I had to do was convince the court that I was right on the law and the government was wrong and all of that power and might would recede in deference to the rule of law.

That is a remarkable thing. It is what we mean when we say that we are a government of laws and not of men. It is that rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of all Americans. It is the envy of the world, because without the rule of law any rights are meaningless.

President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet Constitution. And he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people. But those rights were empty promises because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights. We do, because of the wisdom of our founders and the sacrifices of our heroes over the generations to make their vision a reality.

Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes. I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

Senators Lugar and Bayh talked of my boyhood back home in Indiana. I think all of us retain from the days of our youth certain enduring images. For me those images are of the endless fields of Indiana stretching to the horizon, punctuated only by an isolated silo or a barn. And as I grew older, those endless fields came to represent for me the limitless possibilities of our great land. Growing up, I never imagined that I would be here in this historic room nominated to be the chief justice. But now that I am here I recall those endless fields with their promise of infinite possibilities, and that memory inspires in me a very profound commitment.

If I am confirmed, I will be vigilant to protect the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court, and I will work to ensure that it upholds the rule of law and safeguards those liberties that make this land one of endless possibilities for all Americans.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, members of the committee. I look forward to your questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge John Roberts speaking on the opening day of his confirmation hearing to be the country’s 17th chief justice.

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