Dianne Feinstein is the only woman on the 17-member Judiciary committee. This position is not one she is taking lightly in terms of the Roberts nomination. With questions abounding about his stance on abortion, Feinstein, who is a staunch advocate of women’s rights said today that “she will scrutinize his views on abortion and congressional authority to set social policy.”
She called the impending debate over Roberts’ nomination a “big, big deal.”
“I don’t think in the last couple of decades there has been a Supreme Court appointment that could more tip the balance of the court,” Feinstein said in a speech to several hundred Silicon Valley business executives. “That’s how mega this vote is.”
Feinstein said she has a “special role and a special obligation” in grilling Roberts – particularly on his views about the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. “I happen to feel that it would be very difficult for me to vote yes on a nominee I thought would overturn Roe vs. Wade,” she said.
In her remarks Monday, Feinstein also said the Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist had restricted congressional authority to pass legislation.
She said the Rehnquist court had used the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to weaken or invalidate at least three dozen federal laws in the last decade. She said those included the Violence Against Women Act and the Brady handgun law.
She described those two constitutional provisions as the “the primary sources of congressional power” to enact social policy.
Whether Roberts favored such an approach would heavily influence her decision on whether to vote for him, Feinstein said.
“I would like to come away with the view that he was not going to be one who would further restrict and bind lawmakers’ hands and keep them from enacting legislation that the people of this country want,” she said.
Also reported today on the Roberts nomination: Fight over Roberts memos doesn’t end with deadline
That refusal will be an issue in Roberts’ confirmation hearings. Leahy accuses the White House of “stonewalling” on “documents that would help illuminate Judge Roberts’ views and choices on important issues of concern to all Americans – civil rights, privacy and access to justice.”
Leahy insists that the public’s need to know more about Roberts’ legal philosophy trumps the Justice Department’s desire to protect internal communications.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee want documents connected with 16 cases that Roberts either argued himself, or approved the government arguing, as the top deputy for Kenneth Starr, then solicitor general. The cases involve questions about the rights of women, minorities, and defendants.
Democrats also want:
• Access to about 2,000 pages of documents from Roberts’ years in the Reagan administration that were withheld under Freedom of Information Act exemptions to protect national security and personal privacy. Leahy said the Senate needs “as much information as possible” before deciding to confirm Roberts.
• More information on a Roberts file of “affirmative action correspondence” that disappeared after White House officials reviewed it last month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library. National Archives officials said they tracked down copies that they believe were in the file and are investigating what happened to the original.