Senate Democrats challenged Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. all week to promise that he would look beyond abstract legal questions to the human circumstances of those who would be affected by his rulings.
”Somebody asked me, you know, are you going to be on the side of the little guy?” Roberts testified yesterday. ”And you obviously want to give an immediate answer. But as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy is going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy is going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution.”
Reflecting on the four days of hearings that ended yesterday, liberals and conservatives came to opposite interpretations of Roberts’s answers about compassion. For his skeptics on the left, Roberts’s answers called into question whether he merited life tenure in such a powerful position, regardless of his considerable legal expertise.
”Let me go to the con side here,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, offering his assessment of Roberts. ”First is the question of compassion and humanity. . . . It’s important to determine not just the quality of your mind but the fullness of your heart, which . . . means the ability to truly empathize with those who are less fortunate and who often need the protections of the government and the assistance of the law to have any chance at all.”
But for his conservative defenders, Roberts’s answers showed precisely why they saw him as fit for the job.
”Nothing better exemplifies the chasm of difference between how the left and the right think about the courts,” said Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice. ”The wisdom we want is the wisdom to defend the structure of our system for everyone. What they’re really saying is that the judge should bend or break the law in order to achieve a favorable short-term result.”