Roberts faces tough questions, and says he has no agenda

U.S. Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, his record on civil rights and women's rights challenged by Democrats, vowed at the start of his Senate confirmation hearing on Monday to ensure that the Supreme Court protects all Americans.

“I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment,” Roberts, President George W. Bush's conservative nominee to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind."

”I will be vigilant to protect the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court,” Roberts said. “I will work to ensure that it upholds the rule of law and safeguards those liberties that make this land one of endless possibilities for all Americans.”

Roberts made the pledge after the 18 members of the committee 10 Republicans and eight Democrats delivered opening statements in the first confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court nominee in 11 years, reports Reuters.

According to Bloomberg, the hearings are scheduled to last at least until Sept. 15. Roberts is an overwhelming favorite to win confirmation in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 55-45 advantage. The primary question is how much support he will get from Democrats, who are split on his nomination.

Roberts would replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whom he served as a law clerk in 1980-81. Bush will make a second nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Republican senators, pointing to past Supreme Court nomination hearings, told Roberts yesterday he had the right to refuse to say how he might rule on issues likely to come before the high court.

“No matter how badly senators want to know things, judicial nominees are limited in what they may discuss,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “The Senate traditionally has respected the nominee's judgment about where to draw the line.”

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told Roberts not to be concerned when he is pressed by Democrats.

“Don't take the bait,” Cornyn said. “Decline to answer any question that you feel would compromise your ability to do your job.”

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