High Court confirmation hearing set to open

US Senate committee hearings on the nomination of Judge John Roberts, 50, to be one of the youngest chief justices in US history set on Monday. But the real political battle over the future of America's highest court has little to do with him.

Republicans and Democrats will no doubt joust over the Roberts' nomination for the benefit of national television. The Democrats could also try to hold up the confirmation, by insisting that they will not vote on Judge Roberts until they know who the second nominee will be. But it seems more likely they will keep their political powder dry for the next nomination battle, when the Katrina disaster will have receded slightly in the public mind, leaving more room for outrage over Supreme Court nominations.

That means the real pyrotechnics are likely to come when George W. Bush, president, nominates a second new justice to the Supreme Court this month, reports Financial Times.

According to New York Times, democrats, who were already planning to press Judge Roberts on civil rights, are likely to be even more aggressive on that front, citing the racial divisions exposed by the hurricane. But they must be careful not to push too hard, some political analysts say, because the suffering on the Gulf Coast has left the public with little appetite for a partisan slugfest.

A survey last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 71 percent of Americans were paying attention to stories about gasoline prices and 70 percent to the hurricane, but only 18 percent to the Roberts nomination. So it will be all the more difficult for senators’ intent on using the hearings to reshape their public personas.

One Democrat, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, was so concerned with his performance that he held a mock hearing in his office on Sunday, with a Harvard law professor playing Judge Roberts. As chairman of the committee charged with electing Democrats to the Senate in 2006, Mr. Schumer has used the confirmation battle to raise money for campaigns and to solidify his standing as a party leader.

Photo: the AP

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