Roberts Rx: Speak Up, But Shut Up

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"THE first thing I say to them is, your role in this process is that of a bridegroom at a wedding: stay out of the way, be on time and keep your mouth shut." So said Tom C. Korologos, a former Republican lobbyist and now ambassador to Belgium who has counseled hundreds of presidential nominees, including potential Supreme Court justices. Since July, when he was nominated for the court, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. has adhered literally to Mr. Korologos's prescription. Day after day, he has made the rounds of Capitol Hill, paying courtesy calls on senators and smiling politely for cameras without saying a word in public.

''Justice Ginsburg declined to answer senators' questions 55 times,'' said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. The senator said he would love to know Judge Roberts's views of court rulings on the taking of private property and the display of the Ten Commandments. ''But,'' he said, ''I recognize that there are limits.''

''If he is a Miguel Estrada and just refuses abjectly to answer everything it would make a filibuster more likely,'' said Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat. He called the Ginsburg precedent ''a myth'' and said she answered numerous questions about past cases and judicial philosophy.

The very practice of subjecting a Supreme Court nominee to intensive questioning is relatively new; there were no hearings at all until the 20th century and the first would-be justice to testify on his own behalf was Felix Frankfurter in 1939, according to Donald A. Ritchie, the associate Senate historian. ''He showed up and gave a very genial testimony,'' Mr. Ritchie said.

Things have grown more orchestrated since. When Antonin Scalia came before the Judiciary Committee in 1986, he refused even to say whether he subscribed to the principle of Marbury v. Madison, the fundamental 1803 decision that established the authority of the Supreme Court to strike down laws as unconstitutional.

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