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In commenting on the upcoming Senate hearings on the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, ABC chief congressional correspondent Linda Douglass stated that Roberts's "appealing" demeanor will make it challenging "for Democrats who want to demonize" him.
The statement rests on at least two unwarranted assumptions:
- That senators who ask probing questions of a nominee are trying to make him look bad. An alternate view is that the Senate has a constitutional duty to scrutinize Supreme Court nominees, a view expressed by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who has promised "extensive hearings" on Roberts's nomination.
- That those Democrats who decide to try to defeat the Roberts nomination will resort to "demonization." But they could also employ a different strategy -- for example, one of establishing that Roberts lacks the judicial temperament that they believe is necessary for a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court.
Douglass is not the first to draw unwarranted inferences about Democrats' motives regarding the Roberts nomination:
- The Washington Post stated that in requesting the documents written by Roberts while serving as a government lawyer under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Democrats are "hoping to find ammunition to derail the nomination." The Post also portrayed the Democrats' requests for documents as an indirect attack on Roberts: "Rather than launch a frontal attack on Roberts, Democrats have focused on pressuring the administration for documents, expecting to use any refusal against him as they have with other Bush nominees."
- MSNBC's Chris Matthews cast similar aspersions on the Democrats' document requests. Matthews referred to Democrats' efforts as "witch hunts" and "fishing expeditions," which he defined as "trying to find some dirt on this pristine, apparently pristine, nominee of the president for the Supreme Court, John Roberts."
Both The New York Times and the Associated Press noted Roberts's limited public record as a legitimate basis for Senate Democrats' document requests. The Times reported that while Democrats "must be careful to avoid the perception that they are on a partisan witch hunt," Roberts has "produced a scant record of judicial opinions after only two years on the federal bench" and the Democrats "want as much information as possible about Judge Roberts's record." Similarly, the AP reported that "since his [Roberts's] two-year tenure on the federal bench has left him with a limited public record, they [Democrats] have hinted they may seek memos, briefs and other documents he wrote as an administration lawyer in the Reagan and first Bush administrations to shed more light on his stands on such issues as abortion, the environment and federal jurisdiction."
From the August 7 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
DOUGLASS: But, George, the bottom line here is, this is an appealing man. It was fascinating to watch him speaking in his own words. It gives you a preview of what these hearings are going to be like, and this is going to be a challenge for Democrats who want to demonize this man, because he comes across as reasonable, soothing, reassuring.