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Roberts awaits Senate's verdict

Voting on confirmation expected next Thursday

Judge Roberts listens to a question Thursday, the fourth day of his confirmation hearing.



John Roberts
Supreme Court
Justice and Rights

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Roberts now awaits two Senate votes to decide whether he will be the next chief justice, after telling lawmakers Thursday, "I am not an ideologue."

He wrapped up three days of tough questioning, while successfully avoiding specifics on a range of hot-button issues.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on his confirmation next Thursday, and a full Senate vote should come early the week of September 26. If approved, Roberts would be able to take over the high court in time for the fall session's start in early October.

In his third day of testimony, the 50-year-old federal appeals judge tried to show Democrats he would be a modest judge, respectful of precedent and the rule of law.

"If you look at what I've done since I took the judicial oath, that should convince you that I am not an ideologue, and you and I agree that that's not the sort of person we want on the Supreme Court," he said. Roberts has been a judge for two years on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

But some key Democrats are wavering, saying again that the nominee was not forthcoming on his personal and judicial views.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, praised Roberts for his intellect and his modest judicial philosophy. (Read Schumer's full statement)

But Schumer said Roberts' refusal to answer specific questions troubled him.

"What we need to know are the kinds of things that are coming before the court now. And it makes it hard to figure out what kind of justice you will be, particularly in light of the fact we have little else to go on," Schumer said.

"Now we must take the evidence we have and try to answer the fundamental question: What kind of justice will John Roberts be?"

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, told Roberts, "I don't know what I'm going to do." She said after three days of his public testimony, "My impression today is that you are a very cautious, very precise man ... and that concerns me more."

Nominee praised, criticized

After the senators finished questioning the nominee, outside experts weighed in on the nomination.

The American Bar Association rated Roberts a "well qualified" candidate after a thorough screening process.

"Judge Roberts meets the highest standards required for service on the United States Supreme Court as chief justice," said Stephen Tober, who chaired the ABA's committee. "He enjoys the admiration and respect of his colleagues on and off the bench."

Civil rights leaders spoke out against him. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of more than 180 civil rights groups, announced its opposition.

"Judge Roberts is on the wrong side of history," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who recalled repeated police beatings he endured peacefully protesting segregation in the 1960s. "Judge Roberts' memos reveal him to be hostile to civil rights, affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act."

Affirmative action

During questioning Wednesday, Roberts agreed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, that Congress retains the power to pass legislation banning racial, gender and disability discrimination. The nominee gave short "yes" answers, without elaborating.

He added that as both a government and private lawyer he backed a broad range of opinions on affirmative action.

"I've argued on both sides of that issue. In Rice v. Cayetano, for example, before the Supreme Court, I argued in favor of affirmative action for native Hawaiians. I lost that case. But I was arguing on the side of affirmative action. There are other episodes in my background that people could look to."

He refused again to discuss specifics, but said the particulars of future affirmative action cases would be guided by the facts, not his personal beliefs.

War powers

To begin the final round of questioning, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the panel's ranking Democrat, returned to a topic he touched on earlier in the week -- Congress' ability to end a war.

Roberts said that although Congress' ability to declare war is not in dispute, its authority to end it is an issue that is "unsettled."

"There are situations that arise when an executive may determine that that type of action is necessary. That may be challenged," Roberts said.

"Now Congress has always exercised the power of the purse with respect to activities of that sort and regulated the funding for that type of activity. And that's, of course, always been the core of Congress' authority."

Pledge of Allegiance

Timely political and social issues dominated Wednesday's confirmation hearing for Roberts, who told lawmakers the Supreme Court should try to reach some "consistency" in dealing with thorny church-state disputes.

Roberts also sparred with lawmakers over Hurricane Katrina, property takings, abortion and patient rights, all which have been in headlines in recent months.

During the marathon third day, Roberts was asked about a federal court ruling that banned reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it contains the words "under God."

Less than half an hour after a U.S. District Court judge in California issued his opinion, Roberts told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, that the high court often has been at odds over interpreting the Constitution's prohibition of government "endorsement" of religion. The justices in June issued conflicting opinions on whether the Ten Commandments could be posted on public property.

Responding to questions on this and the pledge case, Roberts said, "That is an area in which I think the court can redouble its efforts to try to come to some consistency in its approach."

Despite a few testy exchanges over the past two days, Roberts has been able to deflect tough questions about his philosophy and rulings.

Abortion questions deflected

On the issue of abortion Wednesday, Roberts deflected two conservative lawmakers' attempts to pin him down on his definition of when life begins, which could prove the basis of a future court challenge on the rights of fetuses. The judge reiterated his refusal to comment on cases that may come before him.

He was similarly noncommittal over the rights of terminally ill people to end their lives with the help of their doctors, a case that will be argued in October by the Supreme Court.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, expressed frustration Wednesday for a second day over Roberts' answers, pressing him for his personal and judicial views on the issue.

"With all due respect, you've told me nothing," Biden said. "It's kind of interesting, this kabuki dance we have in these hearings here, as if the public doesn't have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues facing them."

"Without any knowledge of your understanding of the law, because you will not share it with us, we are rolling the dice with you, judge," he added.

That sentiment was echoed by Schumer, ho told Roberts, "You'll answer only as many questions as necessary to get confirmed. It's not the right thing to do."

Several Republicans praised Roberts' intellect and work as a federal judge and government lawyer. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, told Roberts he would vote for him.

But Planned Parenthood, an abortion-rights group, announced Wednesday it would oppose Roberts' nomination, saying in a statement he was "unfit to occupy the most important position on the court."

On the issue of capital punishment, Roberts said, in a hypothetical case, he would cast the deciding vote to grant a stay of execution, and allow a death row inmate to continue his appeals.

In his two years on the federal bench, Roberts has heard no death penalty cases.

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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