Transcript: Leahy and Schumer

A full transcript of the Democrats' response to President Bush's July 19, 2005, remarks announcing Judge John G. Roberts as his Supreme Court nominee:

LEAHY: Everybody ready?

The president has announced his choice. Now the Senate has to rise to the challenge and do its work.

To fulfill our constitutional duties, we need to consider this nomination as thoroughly and carefully as the American people deserve.

It's going to take time and the cooperation of the nominee and the administration. After all, a member of the Supreme Court is there for all people in this country, no matter what their party.

And that means that Republicans as well as Democrats have to take seriously our constitutional obligations on behalf of all Americans. We have to ensure the Supreme Court remains a protector of all Americans' rights and liberties from government intrusion and that the Supreme Court understands the role of Congress in passing legislation to protect ordinary Americans from special interests abuses.

No one is entitled to a free pass to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Someone confirmed today can be expected to serve on the court until the year 2030 or later.

How the nominee views precedent, whether he regards (inaudible) law, how he will exercise the incredible power of a Supreme Court justice to be the final arbiter of our rights and the meaning of the Constitution, all of these raise very different considerations than in the lower court.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom I voted for for the Supreme Court, is a model justice. She brought a fair and open mind to the bench; she decided cases without a political agenda; she's widely respected as a jurist of common sense and practical values. She didn't prejudge cases.

And I regret that the extreme right has been so critical of her and was so adamantly opposed to her successor sharing her judicial philosophy.

The Constitution calls on us in the Senate to examine nominations to the court, not to rubberstamp them. I look forward to hearings that are going to inform the Senate and all Americans. I'll work with Chairman Specter to have a fair hearing. It's going to take a fair amount of time to do that. But we will do it.

There will be thorough hearings. And I really do not expect any issues that go to the qualifications, the honesty, the integrity and the fairness — the fairness — of a Supreme Court justice to be off limits.

All those questions can be asked.

Chuck Schumer is the Democrat who represents us on the subcommittee who handles nominations. I'd like to turn it over to Senator Schumer.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Senator Leahy. And thank you for your leadership.

There's no question that Judge Roberts has outstanding legal credentials and an appropriate legal temperament and demeanor. But his actual judicial record is limited to only two years on the D.C. Circuit Court.

For the rest of his career, he has been arguing cases an as able lawyer for others, leaving many of his personal views unknown.

For these reasons, it is vital that Judge Roberts answer a wide range of questions openly, honestly and fully in the coming months.

His views will affect a generation of Americans, and it his obligation during the nomination process to let the American people know those views.

The burden is on a nominee to the Supreme Court to prove that he is worthy, not on the Senate to prove that he is unworthy.

I voted against Judge Roberts for the D.C. Court of Appeals because he didn't answer questions fully and openly when he appeared before the committee.

For instance, when I asked him a question that others have answered, to identify three Supreme Court cases of which he was critical, he refused.

But now it's a whole new ball game for those of us who voted against him, for those of us who voted for him and for Judge Roberts.

I hope Judge Roberts, understanding how important this nomination is — particularly when replacing a swing vote on the court — will decide to answer questions about his views.

Now that he is nominated for a position where he can overturn precedent and make law, it is even more important that he fully answers a broad range of questions.

I hope, for the sake of the country, that Judge Roberts understands this and opens questions — sorry, and answers questions — openly, honestly and thoroughly.

And there's one thing that I want to say that is unequivocally great about Judge Roberts. He's a Bills fan.

LEAHY: I'll leave that last line alone.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) 2001 and 2002 you did not move Roberts out of committee. In 2003, when he did come up for a vote, you were the ranking member. You did vote for him. Could you explain your past positions on him?

LEAHY: You know, I was only chairman for 17 months. During that time I moved more of President Bush's nominees than the Republicans did I think in 30 months. So you can only move so many.

During the time that they were in the majority, they had several months that they were in the majority, they didn't bring his name up at all. They didn't bring up any judges. I moved them very quickly.

I will look at him as a Supreme Court nominee.

You know, the way I look at it is this: District courts and the courts of appeals, they're bound by the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, can interpret the law any way it wants. It's an entirely different standard.

I want to have some idea how he will interpret it.

We have, right now, the most activist Supreme Court in my lifetime. No Supreme Court of my lifetime has overturned or undercut more laws passed by Congress than this Court has, everything from Violence Against Women on through, environmental laws, employment laws, all of these things.

This is a very, very activist court. I want to know whether he's going to be like that, somebody who would eagerly and willingly overturn settled law.

QUESTION: Senator Schumer, when you first heard the name John Roberts, what was your gut reaction?

SCHUMER: Well, my gut reaction...

QUESTION: He didn't have enough experience, or what did you think?

SCHUMER: Well, he's one of those nominees that you have a lot of questions about. There are some very good things about him. He's a bright mind. There are some things. He's not answering questions.

So he's, you know, it might have been — with a handful of nominees, I was not going to say anything, you know, definitely, no matter who the nominee was. But with some nominees, you might have said: well, there's a darn good shot that's going to be a consensus nominee. With others, you'd say: There's a darn good shot it's not going to be a consensus nominee. He's in the middle.

QUESTION: Senator Leahy, in your discussions with the White House, did this question of release of information (OFF-MIKE) does that come up at all?

LEAHY: Well, in the general discussions we've had, we've said that we — this is a different era than it was 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.

We expect full answers.

Obviously — and I said this again to the president tonight when I spoke with him — that we need some time. All of us want to go through everything he's written or said.

Now, I'm sure there will be some who rush out and say, "I'm going to vote for or against him," but I believe that those of us on the committee like Senator Schumer and I who have actually read several of those, I think we want to read them a lot more thoroughly.

Like Senator Specter, I like making up my mind based on what's there. I expect full answers.

You know, we had the Estrada battle. There they would not answer what were legitimate questions, questions that have been answered by Clinton nominees. Had he answered them, he may well have been sitting on the court today.

SCHUMER: Let me just say one other thing about that to augment what Patrick has to say. I think it's going to be very important — remember, he's only had two years where he's been a judge.

All the rest of the time, he was arguing cases for someone else, whether it was the U.S. government or private clients when he was at Hogan & Hartson.

And so, therefore, not only should he be fully answering questions about his own views, but we will — we hope we don't have to go through what happened with Miguel Estrada, when we asked for some of the papers and arguments when they worked in the Justice Department, that we didn't get them.

It's going to be very important, particularly for a Supreme Court nominee replacing a swing vote on a divided court, that we get all the information and people don't throw up barriers to that information.

As Patrick said, that's what caused the entire Senate not to — or many in the Senate not to support Miguel Estrada. That's what caused me not to vote for him then, not to vote for Judge Roberts then.

But as I said, it's a new ball game. And as long as he answers the questions fully and openly and gives us the documents that we request, we can be able to explore his views.

LEAHY: When I meet with him tomorrow, that's one of the first things I'm going to stress.

QUESTION: In your opinion, did the consultation process work to your satisfaction? And, if it did, does it have any impact on how you move forward with the nomination?

LEAHY: You know, I'm still going over that in my own mind. I think that the president has spent a lot of time listening to our views. In many ways, it was not the extensive consultation that I recall from both President Clinton and President Reagan, but it was certainly more extensive than some of the consultation this administration has been known for before.

The president told me he listened to our views. I expressed to him the extent of what I thought the consultation was — which I won't repeat here — but it is what it is.

Ultimately though — ultimately — with or without any degree of consultation, the Senate has to be the final arbiter. As I've said many times, there's 280 million Americans. There's one Supreme Court. Only 101 people get a say in who's going to be there; first and foremost, primarily, the president, because he nominates.

But then the 100 members of the Supreme Court are supposed to stand in the shoes of all Americans to say: Is this person going to protect our rights? Is this person going to uphold the Constitution? Is this person going to give equal justice to everybody, no matter who you are, no matter what your political affiliation, no matter what your cause is?

And that is what will make up my mind one way or the other on Judge Roberts. And those are the kind of questions I've asked.

Now that's nothing different than I have said before publicly. I've said the same thing to the president. I would hope that we will have a good, full hearing. I suspect Senator Specter feels the same way. I hope we are given plenty of time to do this.

Nobody is trying to be dilatory. But nobody should be rushed into it.

SCHUMER: The one thing I would just say...


SCHUMER: The one thing I would say is, to the best of my knowledge, at least no one on our side was offered names and asked to give an opinion. It would have moved the process forward more quickly, because if a few days ago someone said, "What do you think of Judge Roberts or this one or that one?" we could have done some initial research and given some preliminary views.

But be that as it may, consultation is over now. And we have a nominee and we have to begin the process.

So the fact that consultation wasn't as full as some of us would have liked, I don't think is going to jaundice any of our views in terms of judging Roberts as a potential Supreme Court nominee.

LEAHY: The president's decision is now completed. Now, the decision has to be made of 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

QUESTION: What does a Roberts appointment mean for Native Americans in this country?

SCHUMER: It's too early to tell.

LEAHY: Need to have a hearing.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but at this point, do you see this as a potential (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: Well, you know, I'm an old trial lawyer. And I was a trial lawyer and I was a prosecutor and I always believed that you laid out all the facts to the jury before you asked them for their verdict.

So I think, before I give my verdict, I think I'd like to hear all the facts. I'd like to hear all the — in other words, I will meet with Judge Roberts tomorrow. I'll talk to him. I'll tell him — I'll raise some of the same things Chuck has raised about being ready to answer all questions, have everything before us, but I'll make up my mind based on the hearings.

That's the way I've always done it. I've had cases where I've expected to vote for somebody for a judgeship in my own mind, had the hearing, my mind has changed.

I've had other hearings where I've thought, when I've heard about this person, I don't think I'm going to vote them. After the hearing, I have voted for them.

I really and truly — I've been here 31 years. I've voted on all nine members of the Supreme Court. I've been here for two other nominees that didn't make it to the Supreme Court. I really like to make up my mind based on the facts.

QUESTION: You said that you have questions about (OFF-MIKE). You know something about what views he does have, though, and I'm wondering what you think. Does he look like he might be the kind (OFF-MIKE)

SCHUMER: Well, as I said, I mean, you know — I think Patrick is right. I think it's much too early to tell. You wouldn't say automatically he'll be a consensus nominee. You wouldn't say automatically he'll be a nominee that no Democrat will vote for.

It's somewhere in that broad middle, and we're going to have to ask a whole lot of questions and do thorough exploration before we can give an answer to that question.

LEAHY: I expect you're going to have a situation where you're going to see some groups on the far right that will paint him a certain way; some groups on the far left will paint him in a certain way.

I have to think, if Sandra Day O'Connor was coming before us today, you would have some who would say, "Well, we can't have her. She's a conservative Republican."

Others would say, "We can't have her. She's a consensus voter (ph) who will probably be a moderate."

It's turned out she got a very solid vote. And now everybody says she's the kind of model we should have had for her replacement.

QUESTION: So have the outside liberal groups sort of been gearing up for a big fight here had a chance to weigh in with you all yet in terms of their reaction and what they think you ought to be doing?

LEAHY: I haven't met with any groups at either the right or the left. I will make up my mind based on what I hear in the committee.

I'll meet with Judge Roberts tomorrow. I'll ask him a number of preliminary questions. I suspect that, just like others, I'll probably have other questions I'll ask him prior to the hearing. And I expect to be spending much of August up at my farm in Vermont where I can sit in my jeans and a T-shirt, but I'll be reading all his opinions and everything that he's written.

If I get questions, I'll call him and ask him.

QUESTION: Has the word "filibuster" crossed your mind?

SCHUMER: It's much too early to cross any bridge like that.

QUESTION: Are you confident given the need, you said, for time that you think you can make the deadline of the first Monday in October?

LEAHY: I'm going to start reading — Senator Spector and I started months ago talking about the amount of time that we need. And we'll be meeting this week to determine that.

You know, there's nothing — I think many would like to make it by the first Monday in October, but there's nothing magic about that.

Justice O'Connor gave us a great gift. She said she would serve until her replacement is confirmed.

QUESTION: Senator, you pointed out the difference between appellate courts and the Supreme Court, but, still, just two years ago, this nominee — there wasn't even a roll call vote (OFF-MIKE).

Is it realistic to think that that nominee in just two years would be so controversial that there would be an honest-to-God, all- out fight over that nomination?

LEAHY: I'm not going to compare him — something I want to mention. Judge Bork got 99-0 vote for Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

SCHUMER: And Judge Carswell is the same. Judge Carswell had I think only eight months before his Supreme Court nomination. He received a unanimous vote in the Senate for — I can't remember, I guess it was the 5th or 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

And so it's a tabula rasa that way. It's a whole new ball game. And I think that anyone who voted for him — I guess there were 13 in Judiciary — anyone who voted against him, three in Judiciary, then the vast majority of senators who didn't vote on him, you've got to start from scratch.

This, the Supreme Court, is far different than the court of appeals. The Supreme Court makes law. We hope they do it by interpreting precedent and following the legislature.

But they make law.

And, therefore, you cannot extrapolate — someone who might make a good D.C. Court of Appeals judge might not make a good Supreme Court justice and vice versa.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the nominee's position on Roe v. Wade...

LEAHY: I'll tell you the same thing I told the president on the question you asked is that I'll make sure, on my part, to have a very thorough hearing, ask thorough questions. It will be fair, and it will make up our mind.

That's all any of the 100 senators can do.

SCHUMER: That's it. We're not answering any more.