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Nomination of Chief Justice Heads to Committee Vote

I'm Doug Johnson with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Judge John Roberts. President Bush has nominated him as the seventeenth chief justice of the United States. Federal judges serve for life.

The committee is expected to vote on Thursday. Ten Republicans serve with eight opposition Democrats. The full Senate plans to open debate on the nomination on September twenty-sixth. The Supreme Court begins its new term on October third.

Judge Roberts must have the votes of at least fifty-one senators to be confirmed. Most observers say that should not be difficult. Fifty-five senators are Republican. But he would need sixty votes should opponents try to delay.

Judge Roberts is widely recognized as a legal expert. But some people call him too conservative. They say he could lead the court to weaken or cancel earlier rulings on civil rights.

John Roberts told the committee, "I will be my own man on the Supreme Court." He said he is not an "ideologue" -- someone who only follows one set of ideas. He said he would honor the legal tradition known by the Latin term stare decisis. This is a belief in the importance of earlier decisions on issues.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee tried to get Judge Roberts to fully detail his positions on several major issues. These include a woman's right to end a pregnancy and also the rights of the dying.

Judge Roberts did say that he believes the Constitution supports a right to privacy. Such a belief has led to rulings that protect the use of birth control by married couples and a woman's right to abortion. But Judge Roberts did not say in what way such a right could affect future cases. He said it would be wrong to comment on subjects that he might have to consider on the court.

Other questions involved growing tension between Congress and the Supreme Court over congressional actions ruled unconstitutional.

As a lawyer, John Roberts argued thirty-nine cases before the court. He currently serves as a appeals court judge. President Bush nominated him in July to become an associate justice after Sandra Day O’Connor announced her resignation.

But on September third, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died of cancer. So the president chose Judge Roberts for that position. Mister Bush says he will nominate someone else later on to take Miz O’Connor’s place.

The Judiciary Committee advises the Senate to confirm or reject nominations. It can also report a nomination without any advice. Or it can decide not to report a nomination at all. This would block a vote in the one-hundred-member Senate. But the tradition for many years has been to let all senators vote on nominees. In the case of John Roberts, it appears the only question now is how many Democrats will vote for him.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Doug Johnson.