ACLU Urges Senate to Carefully Review Record of John Roberts, Expresses Deep Concern Over Nominee

August 30, 2005 12:00 am

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New Report Examines Roberts’ Record on Civil Liberties

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing “deep concern” over Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ record and urging the Senate to fully consider his legal and judicial philosophy, his approach to decision-making, and his possible impact on the role of the court in protecting civil liberties. Accompanying the letter was a 45-page report summarizing the nominee’s civil rights and civil liberties record.

John Roberts

ACLU letter to the Senate on the nomination of John Roberts >>

ACLU report on John Roberts’ record >>

O’Connor Replacement Could Roll Back Liberties Protection >>

Summary of key rulings by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor >>

“This nomination battle not only comes at a critical time for civil liberties, but at a time when a crucial swing vote could directly affect the outcome of some of the most important legal questions facing America today,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

The Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to start on September 6th.

While serving as principal deputy solicitor general from 1989-1993, Roberts authored briefs calling for Roe v. Wade to be overruled, supporting graduation prayer, and seeking to criminalize flag burning as a form of political protest. “All these positions were rejected by the Supreme Court,” Romero noted, “but the Court remains closely divided on many of these questions.”

In its letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, the ACLU noted that Roberts has taken troubling positions on civil liberties issues relating to national security, civil rights and freedom of speech. For instance, Roberts joined an opinion issued earlier this summer holding that the Geneva Conventions could not be enforced in American courts. The decision reversed a lower court ruling invalidating the military commissions established by President Bush because they did not adequately protect the rights of Guantánamo detainees. While working for the Reagan administration, Roberts repeatedly supported the authority of Congress to strip the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over sensitive issues like busing, abortion, and school prayer.

“The Senate must delve further into Roberts’ record, but what we do know raises serious civil liberties concerns,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “In this hostile environment toward civil liberties and privacy, Senators must ensure that those on the court will serve as true arbiters of justice for all. Tough questions must be asked — and answered — by the nominee.”

However, Fredrickson noted, Roberts’ record also includes advising a gay rights advocate on how to argue an important case before the Supreme Court, representing the federal government in successfully arguing to the Supreme Court in support of the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners, and advocating for the due process rights of welfare recipients in the District of Columbia.

The report on Roberts was prepared in accordance with ACLU policy, which requires the organization to prepare a summary of each Supreme Court nominee’s civil liberties record for use by the Senate as well as by members of the public and the media. The national board of the ACLU has voted to oppose only two nominees in its history: Justice William Rehnquist (in his initial nomination to the Court) and former solicitor general and law professor Robert Bork.

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