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John Roberts Jr. moved into the second day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, with Democrats still complaining that the likely future chief justice remains too much of a cipher, and with GOP committee members stressing that Roberts has answered more questions than any other nominee. “I do think I’ve been more expansive than most nominees, and those justices were confirmed,” Roberts told Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. The committee will wrap up questioning of Roberts on Thursday morning, then proceed directly to six panels of witnesses, who will speak for and against the nominee. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said late Wednesday that he would conclude the Roberts hearings on Thursday and set a committee vote on the nominee for Sept. 22. As in his testimony on the previous day, Roberts was probed about his views on the Voting Rights Act, privacy and the judiciary’s proper role in interpreting congressional statutes. And as in Tuesday’s performance, Roberts was loath to do more than outline in the broadest terms his view of how he would adjudicate certain issues, prompting a frustrated Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to complain: “It’s as if we ask you what movies you like, and you say, ‘I like movies with good acting.’ And if I ask you if you like ‘Casablanca’ and you tell me, ‘Lots of people like ‘Casablanca.”” “‘Doctor Zhivago’ and ‘North by Northwest,’” Roberts shot back. It was a rare moment of humor in an all-day hearing during which Democrats appeared increasingly outgunned by an unperturbable witness. One chief counsel for a committee Republican noted the reams of paperwork being passed between staff and the panel’s 18 members and remarked, “Roberts has just got all this stuff in his head.” Indeed, by the end of the day, the most interesting question was not whether Roberts would win confirmation, but whether he would secure any Democratic votes in the process. Earlier in the day, in some of the week’s most heated testimony, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., bored into Roberts in an effort to elicit his views on whether a state legislature should have the right to pass laws restricting the right of a dying person’s next of kin to remove a feeding tube, evoking the Terri Schiavo case. “You are one of the best witnesses to come before this committee, and I’ve been here some 30 years,” said Biden, who had been chided by Specter the day before for repeatedly interrupting Roberts’ testimony. “You’ve convinced folks on Sen. [Sam] Brownback’s side that you are just right for them, and on Sen. [Edward] Kennedy’s that you are just right for them,” he added, referring to one of the committee’s most conservative members and one of its most liberal. “Can any law trump a fundamental right to die?” Biden asked the nominee. Roberts replied that his personal views would not enter into his decision-making on the issue and that he would decide a question like that “based on my understanding of the law.” “That’s what I want to know about,” retorted Biden. “We’re rolling the dice with you, Judge.” Roberts, however, who has yet to show any flashes of anger, and only the rarest moments of irritation, refused to give a direct answer. “Senator, that’s asking me for an opinion in the abstract that will come before the Court,” he replied. After Biden noted that executive and legislative branch candidates must lay out their views on various issues, while judicial candidates can keep theirs to themselves, Roberts launched into a vigorous defense of judicial independence. It was no accident that federal judges don’t stand for election, Roberts said, adding that to make pledges in a confirmation hearing would violate their role as open-minded and fair arbiters of legal disputes. “It is contrary to the role of the judge in our society that this judge should go on the bench because this is his or her position,” said Roberts. “That’s inconsistent with the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court.” So far, the three days of hearings have been marked by Roberts’ disarming manner, which allows him to repeatedly turn down senators’ requests for answers yet maintain what appears to be a large reservoir of good will among the entire committee. While Roberts insisted he had been “more expansive” than other nominees, he largely stuck to his views on cases, such as 1803′s Marbury v. Madison, that are unlikely to be reconsidered by the Court. But then again, in 1986, then-nominee Antonin Scalia would not even comment on Marbury. But the 50-year-old federal appeals court judge did surrender a few pieces of information on Wednesday, in particular his views on the high court’s proclivity to produce decisions with several concurring opinions. Specter said he was troubled by the Court’s decisions in June 2004 over the detainees at Guant�namo Bay, calling the opinions “a patchwork of confusion.” In response, Roberts seemed to almost startle the committee by implying that too many separate opinions were not a good thing. “The Supreme Court speaks only as a court,” he said. “Individually, the justices have no authority… . [A]n important function of the Supreme Court is to provide guidance. As a lower court judge, I appreciate clear guidance from the Supreme Court.” And Roberts offered other comments Wednesday that could signal a different approach from Scalia and other conservative legal thinkers. “I depart from some views of the original intent” movement, Roberts said. Originalists, he suggested, believe the Constitution should be interpreted in light of “just the conditions at that time, just the particular problem” at the time of the Constitution’s drafting. “I think you need to look at the words they used, and if the words adopt a broader principle, it applies more broadly,” he said. When principles like liberty are involved, Roberts said, “that doesn’t get a narrow construction.” A broad view of the liberty concept could have implications for Roberts’ views on privacy, abortion, and the right to die.

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