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John Roberts: Roe v. Wade 'Entitled to Respect'

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Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, who was peppered with questions about abortion and civil rights Tuesday, refused to give detailed answers about the controversial Roe v. Wade case but said that the landmark ruling that legalized abortion was “settled as a precedent.”

“I think it is a jolt to the legal system when you overturn precedent … It is not enough that you may think that a prior decision was wrongly decided,” Roberts said before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of his confirmation hearings.

As a general principle, he said, he believes in “the importance of settled expectations,” the New York Times reports. The heart of the abortion case is “settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis,” the concept that long-established rulings should be given extra weight. Still, Roberts declined to answer specifically how he would rule if faced with the question of overturning Roe v. Wade, according to the Associated Press.

Roberts also was pressed about his writings on civil rights. Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, described some of Roberts’s writings while he was a young lawyer in the Reagan administration as a “narrow, cramped and mean-spirited view” that failed to show a full appreciation of discrimination.

Roberts declined to discuss particular cases that might come before the court but called voting rights “the most precious rights we have as Americans.”

On Monday, refuting any notion that he has a personal agenda, Roberts said that he would judge cases “according to the rule of law, without fear or favor” as the nation’s 17th chief justice.

“I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes,” Roberts said. “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.”

Roberts, a 50-year-old appeals court judge, was selected by President Bush to succeed the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Although the hearings are expected to last for a few days, Roberts’s confirmation seems all but assured.

The first day largely saw speeches and platitudes from the Committee members.

“This is a confirmation proceeding … not a coronation,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). “It is a Senate Judiciary Committee’s job to ask tough questions. We are tasked by the Senate with getting a complete picture of your qualifications, your temperament and how you will carry out your duties.”

Republicans are also expected to pose tough questions of their own – but they will also try to block Democrats from getting too aggressive in getting Roberts to answer questions about hot-button issues.

“I want you to know that I will defend your refusal to answer any question that you believe to be improper,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told Roberts on Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Hearing committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will control the questioning with his wooden gavel and has said he won’t stop senators from asking questions because Roberts can’t be forced to answer. “He can protect himself,” Specter said. “And if they’re badgering, or repetitive, or out of line, that’s the time when a chairman should intervene.”