Weekly Column of Senator Lamar Alexander - John Roberts confirmation

For the week of October 3, 2005

Posted on September 30, 2005

Last week, I proudly cast my vote for Judge John Roberts to serve as our nation’s 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate voted 78-22, confirming Judge Roberts by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Watching John Roberts in the nomination hearings was like watching Michael Jordan play basketball at the University of North Carolina in the early 1980s or Chet Atkins as a session guitarist in Nashville in the 1950s. One doesn’t have to be a great student of the law to recognize there is unusual talent here. For someone who has been trained in the law, as I have, it is difficult to overstate how good John Roberts seems to be. He has the resume of most talented law students’ dreams, serving as editor of the Harvard Law Review and clerk to Judge Henry Friendly, who was widely regarded as one of the two or three best appellate judges of the last century. He also clerked for our last Chief Justice, William Rehnquist. John Roberts worked in the Solicitor General’s office where only the best of the best lawyers are invited to work, and he was a successful advocate before the Supreme Court both in private and in public practice. Added to this impressive resume is his demeanor, his modesty both in philosophy and in person—something that is not always so evident in a person of superior intelligence and great accomplishment, and his kindnesses to individuals with whom he has worked. Judge Roberts brings, as he repeatedly said, no agenda to the Supreme Court. He understands that he did not write the Constitution, and it’s not his job to rewrite it but to interpret it. He understands that he does not make laws, but is obligated to apply them. It is unlikely that in our lifetimes we will see a Supreme Court nominee whose professional accomplishments, demeanor and intelligence are superior to that of Judge John Roberts. The vote to confirm Judge Roberts was in keeping with tradition. Republican and Democratic senators, after rigorous hearings and discussions, have traditionally given well-qualified nominees for the Supreme Court overwhelming votes of approval. This includes those who currently serve on the Court: · Justice Breyer – Confirmed by a vote of 87 – 9 in a Congress composed of 57 Democrats and 43 Republicans. · Justice Ginsburg – Confirmed by a vote of 96 – 3 in that same Congress. · Justice Souter – Confirmed by a vote of 90 – 9 in a Congress composed of 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. · Justice Kennedy – Confirmed by a vote of 97 – 0 in a Congress composed of 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. · Justice Scalia – Confirmed by a vote of 98 – 0 in a Congress composed of 47 Democrats and 53 Republicans. · Justice O’Connor – Confirmed by a vote of 99 – 0 in a Congress composed of 46 Democrats and 53 Republicans. · Justice Stevens – Confirmed by a vote of 98 – 0 in a Congress composed of 61 Democrats and 37 Republicans. Almost all Republican senators voted for Justice Ginsburg, a former General Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union— a nominee who declined to answer numerous questions so as not to jeopardize the independence of the court on cases that might come before her. In fact, the only close vote on the current Court was for the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas following questions of alleged misconduct by the nominee. Justice Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52 – 48, and even in that vote 11 Democrats crossed the aisle to support the nominee. As governor of Tennessee I appointed about fifty judges, and I looked for the same qualities Judge Roberts has demonstrated – intelligence, good character, restraint, respect for the law and respect for those who came before the court. I did not ask one applicant how he or she would rule on abortion or immigration or taxation. I appointed the first woman circuit judge, as well as men. I appointed Tennessee’s first African American chancellor and the first African American state Supreme Court justice. I appointed Republicans and Democrats. That process served our state well and helped build respect for the independence and fairness of our judiciary. I hope the Senate will try to do the same as we consider President Bush’s next nomination for the United States Supreme Court.