Excerpt from NBC News' Meet the Press
July 24, 2005
MR. TIM RUSSERT (NBC): On Tuesday
night, you said that his nomination would be controversial, but on
Wednesday, you were on the floor and said, "President Bush has nominated
John Roberts... a very well- qualified person...no question about this
man's legal skill--none at all. Nor has there been any serious questions
of any kind raised about his integrity, his honesty. I have not heard a
single word suggesting he does not have the temperament to be a federal
judge." So why would you oppose him?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Because there's more, because I have an
obligation as a member of the Senate, representing not only Illinois,
but speaking for those in the nation who are following this, to ask
critical questions about where he stands on mainstream values in
America. It's not enough to say all of those things, legally skilled,
honest and a good temperament. I need to know if his views fall within
the mainstream on critical issues, issues like workers' rights and
women's rights and civil rights and the protection of the environment. I
think the American people want to know that the person going to the
court is in that mainstream when it comes to these values.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned that-- you heard my conversation with Senator
Thompson about abortion, where, when he was representing the solicitor
general's office, he said Roe vs. Wade should be overturned. When he was
nomination for the Court of Appeals, he said it was settled law and that
he saw is as precedent in terms of applying it as an appellate judge.
When he was seeking that judgeship in 2003, you voted against him.
SEN. DURBIN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: And you said, "He was not candid in his answers. He said
Roe vs. Wade was settled law. I didn't think that was a very responsive
answer. I want an honest answer." What's wrong with saying it's settled
SEN. DURBIN: Well, because of course, at that point, he was aspiring to
the circuit bench, which is to follow the law of the Supreme Court, the
decisions of the Supreme Court. In this case, he is aspiring to that
high court which can change the law and so we need to know more. And,
Tim, I think it gets down to the basics. It's a question about the
values and principles that guided Roe vs. Wade. What Justice Blackmun
was trying to achieve in that decision was to recognize the right of
privacy, a right of exclusion so that there are parts of our lives, our
personal and family lives, the government can't intrude upon. And in
this situation, I think we have a right to know where John Roberts
stands when it comes to fundamental issues of privacy and personal
freedom. So if he doesn't want to address the question up or down, "Are
you for Roe vs. Wade?" he at least has an obligation to tell us if he
believes, that within the four corners of the Constitution, we have a
right of privacy, as was decided in Griswold and in Roe vs. Wade.
MR. RUSSERT: It's interesting, because in your own political past, when
you were a congressman in the House of Representatives in 1983, you
believed that Roe vs. Wade was incorrectly decided. You filled out a
questionnaire calling for a constitutional limit to ban all abortions.
You wrote a constituent saying that "The right to an abortion is not
guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution."
SEN. DURBIN: I'll concede that point to you, Tim. When I came to
MR. RUSSERT: So are these views out of the mainstream?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, at that point, I can tell you I came to Congress not
having seen what I think is the important part of this debate and not
understanding, if you will, really what was behind it. You know, it's a
struggle for me. It still is. I'm opposed to abortion. If any woman in
my family said she was seeking abortion, I'd go out of my way to try to
dissuade them from making that decision. But I was really discouraged
when I came to Washington to find that the opponents of abortion were
also opponents of family planning. This didn't make any sense to me. And
I was also discouraged by the fact that they were absolute, no
exceptions for rape and incest, the most extraordinary medical
situations. And I finally came to the conclusion that we really have to
try to honor the Roe vs. Wade thinking, that there are certain times in
the life of a woman that she needs to make that decision with her
doctor, with her family and with her conscience and that the government
shouldn't be intruding. It's true that my position changed, but as
Abraham Lincoln said when they accused him of changing his position,
"I'd rather be right some of the time than wrong all the time."
MR. RUSSERT: You said this in 2005, July 3, Chicago Tribune, "I'm
looking for [a Supreme Court nominee] who's truly independent and
balanced in their approach. They don't have to agree with me on every
issue, but I do want to see in that person an open mind." If John
Roberts said to you that his views on abortion were exactly those that
you had in 1983, would you vote for his confirmation?
SEN. DURBIN: I would like to hear from him as to whether or not he has
at least thought through or struggled with this decision on the future
of reproductive rights in this country. I'd like to hear from him that
even if he might disagree on a variance of Roe vs. Wade, that when it
comes down to the basics, when it comes down to right of privacy, he
will acknowledge that is part of our right and our legacy as Americans
and that he would acknowledge, as well, that this is an issue of
personal freedom. So it isn't that I want to pin him down on this so
much as understanding the thinking that would go behind the next
MR. RUSSERT: But as he said, Senator, "I believe it should be a decision
made by the states," which is what you said in 1983. Would that
SEN. DURBIN: I would think at this point that it would trouble me
greatly, because I believe that from this point of view, I think that
many of us believe that this is an old debate that just keeps recurring.
It's not. It is a debate that is topical. Just a few months ago in
Congress, we were embroiled in a controversy over the tragedy of Terri
Schiavo. Here was a family making a decision that hundreds of families
across America have made today about a loved one and whether she would
continue to receive certain medical support. The decision of some--in
fact, many on the same side politically as the president--was that the
government should step in, the federal court should step in, into that
hospital room to make that decision for the Schiavo family. So what I'm
saying to you is this is an issue of privacy and freedom that will
continue to come back to us. I need to know, most importantly, from
Judge Roberts, what drives him on these decisions? Where are his values?
MR. RUSSERT: On Schiavo, not one Democratic senator stood up and
SEN. DURBIN: But there was a much different debate in the Senate than in
the House. You know, I was part of it and I watched as Senator Carl
Levin and others went through the original bill passed by the House and
changed it dramatically. No mandate on the court. No necessary intrusion
of this personal decision. I thought we did a more responsible thing on
the Senate side.
MR. RUSSERT: You heard Senator Thompson say other than Robert Bork and
Ruth Bader Ginsburg-- 'cause she had written about the subject--Justice
O'Connor, Justice Thomas, Justice Breyer, none of them talked about
abortion in the kind of "candid way" that you're now demanding of John
SEN. DURBIN: I don't know that I'm demanding more of him than you should
demand of any nominee. I don't want him to tell me up or down, Roe vs.
Wade, would you vote to overturn it. I really, though, think it's
fundamental here. The American people expect us, I think in this
process, to find out what is really driving the thoughts and the heart
of the individual who's seeking this nomination. If I didn't do that,
we'd be putting someone on the court without an understanding as to
whether they would be independent, whether they'd be balanced and have
an open mind. This is the last refuge for America's freedoms and rights
and I think we have a special obligation to understand what goes into
the value judgments of those seeking this bench.
MR. RUSSERT: You use the phrase open mind. Governor Bill Clinton when he
was running for president in April of '92 had this to say.
(Videotape, April 5, 1992):
GOV. BILL CLINTON, (D-AR): And I will appoint judges to the Supreme
Court who believe in the constitutional right to privacy, including the
right to choose.
MR. RUSSERT: That was a commitment that the people he'd nominate to the
Supreme Court would believe in a right to privacy, the right to choose.
Doesn't George Bush, as a Republican, have the same opportunities as
Bill Clinton, the Democrat, to put people on the court who share his
SEN. DURBIN: Well, it's interesting. When you asked Senator Thompson
this question, he said that he didn't believe that Judge Roberts had
even been asked this question by anyone in the White House, based on his
conversations with Judge Roberts. I don't know the answer to that, but I
can tell you there's an interesting thing going on here. You recall, as
I do, that many of the far-right groups were opposed to the concept of
Alberto Gonzales being elevated to the Supreme Court. In fact, the
president came to his defense at one point, thinking that they'd gone
too far. I asked Judge Roberts the other day, "What happened here?"
Within a matter of 24 hours, all of these groups pivoted and said, "We
are completely behind John Roberts." I said to him, "What do they know
that I don't know about you?" And so there are a lot of unanswered
questions here. I would...
MR. RUSSERT: What did he say?
SEN. DURBIN: He said that he didn't understand the political process or
what motivated these groups, but I think it's a legitimate inquiry. And
it really calls on him to satisfy the curiosity or the inquiry from
people like myself as to what he really believes here. And as I said,
I'm not looking for a litmus test. As important as reproductive rights
and women's rights are, I just basically want to know that if the next
case involving privacy and personal freedom came up, what do you
MR. RUSSERT: If he said he did not see a right of privacy in the
Constitution, would that...
SEN. DURBIN: I couldn't vote for him.
MR. RUSSERT: That would disqualify him?
SEN. DURBIN: It would disqualify him in my mind.
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