Roberts Hearings: Day 4

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Click here to watch a summary of Thursday’s hearings.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded its questioning of Judge John Roberts, nominee to be Chief Justice of the United States. Judge Roberts was followed by about 30 outside witnesses who testified for and against the nomination.

The Committee heard moving testimony from Roderick Jackson, a girls high school basketball coach from Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Jackson was fired by his high school in retaliation for seeking access to the same athletic facilities for his girls team as those used by the boys team. Mr. Jackson sued the high school to get his job back, claiming protection under Title IX, the landmark federal law guaranteeing equal access in sports for males and females. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Title IX protected Mr. Jackson from being fired simply for seeking to get the school to comply with the federal law, and ordered his reinstatement.

Similarly, the Committee heard the gripping testimony of Beverly Jones, a disabled court reporter who sued Tennessee for its refusal to ensure that state courthouses were wheelchair accessible. The Supreme Court ruled in another 5-4 decision that Tennessee had violated the federal Americans with Disability Act which Congress enacted to ensure equal access to public facilities for disabled persons.

Senator Biden stated that the accounts of Coach Jackson and Ms. Jones were sobering “real world” examples of how the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution and federal laws have tremendous practical impact on average Americans. Senator Biden noted, for example, that the dissent in Coach Jackson’s case (led by Justice Thomas) interpreted Title IX very narrowly, in a way which would have left him without his job and his girls team without decent sports facilities. In contrast, Senator Biden observed that the majority (led by Justice O’Connor) insisted that Title IX be read very broadly, in a way to maximize protections for girls seeking access to sports facilities and those seeking to ensure their rights to those facilities.

Senator Biden concluded by noting that he simply didn’t know enough about Judge Roberts’ judicial philosophy to be certain which side of this debate he would fall on as the nominee had not clearly stated his views on such critical issues as the right to privacy, end-of-life issues, or how broadly he would construe key constitutional protections for individuals. Senator Biden looks forward to further debate on these critical issues during next week’s vote on the nomination in the Judiciary Committee.

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