Bill Adair: Roberts Bears Striking Similarities To Rehnquist





Chief Justice Roberts may not be much different from Chief Justice Rehnquist.

The testimony of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. over the past four days reveals many similarities with William Rehnquist, the judge Roberts would replace.

Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist and considers him a mentor, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that he shared the belief of his late boss that judges should have a limited role and "an appropriate modesty and humility."

Roberts said the nation should not expect "a dramatic departure" under his leadership from the decisions of the Rehnquist era.

Rehnquist, an appointee of President Richard Nixon, was a solidly conservative justice who opposed abortion, boosted states' rights and protected the powers of police. As chief, he was considered a gentle leader who maintained good relations with the other justices.

On Thursday, as the Judiciary Committee concluded four days of hearings about Roberts, Democratic senators such as Dianne Feinstein said that despite all the testimony, they still did not have a clear picture of him.

"Many of us are struggling with exactly that: What kind of a justice would you be, John Roberts?" Feinstein said.

Democrats say they are frustrated because Roberts declined to answer dozens of questions about issues that he said might come before the court. When he did provide an answer, he often just gave a history lesson about old rulings.

But legal analysts say his testimony provides a few clues what he would be like.

Roberts said he is committed to precedents and believes privacy is a fundamental right and that the Constitution should be interpreted broadly.

Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University, said Roberts is similar to his mentor because he endorsed a modest approach on the court and "would generally defer to judgments made elsewhere."

When Roberts testified that he believed in the importance of predecents and that privacy was protected under the Constitution, some people interpreted his remarks to mean he might not vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case. But Cheh said his comments were remarkably similar to writings by Rehnquist, who wanted to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

She said Roberts "is less of an ideologue" than Justices Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, the most conservative justices on the court. "But he is still quite conservative in his approach to judging and the Constitution."
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