When John G. Roberts comes up for confirmation as President Bush's choice for Supreme Court justice, the Senate Democrats who plan to grill him might talk a lot about the environment, the Geneva Convention, or whether it's all right for students to offer voluntary prayers at their high school graduation--three issues on which the left thinks Roberts came down wrong either as Deputy Solicitor General under the first President Bush or during his two-year stint as a judge on the Washington, D.C., Circuit of the Court of Appeals.

Those issues are smokescreens. There is exactly one issue that is of interest to today's Democratic Party, its liberal supporters, and its liberal deep-pockets when it comes to the confirmation of federal jurists: abortion. When the Washington Post ran an editorial written shortly before Roberts' nomination stating that Bush should pick a candidate for the Supreme Court with a high regard for the stability of legal precedent--"the legal principle of stare decisis," the Post's editors were talking about only one "decisis" that they wanted to "stare": Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that created a supposed constitutional "right" to an abortion.

Roberts is a deeply religious Catholic whose wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is active in the anti-abortion group Feminists for Life. In 1991, Roberts argued as deputy solicitor general that the Supreme Court ought to overturn Roe v. Wade, which he said has no foundation in the language of the U.S. Constitution. So expect Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) or his ilk to grill Roberts, just as Schumer grilled Alabama Attorney General William Pryor when Bush named Pryor to the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 2003, about how his "deeply held Catholic faith" will affect his interpretation of the Constitution.

That's code for asking Roberts how he plans to vote if the issue of overturning Roe comes up before the Supreme Court again--as it most certainly will. It's also code for creating a de facto rule that, since the Catholic Church teaches that the taking of innocent human life is a grave moral wrong that no public official should support, any Catholic who takes the teachings of his or her church seriously should be automatically disqualified from holding high office in America. That's quite a turnabout for the Democrats, who built their party's grassroots constituency among ethnic Catholics who had suffered generations of anti-Catholic prejudice from an Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority that often voted Republican. Unless it stops itself, the Democratic Party will have become the party of bald anti-Catholicism.

The Democrats don't seem to have many other avenues to assail this nominee. Roberts' record as a student, law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, lawyer, and judge is a diamond diadem of glittering achievement. He has an attractive, accomplished wife--a lawyer hersel--and two charming children. He is an affable and unpretentious sort of fellow who, although he was a partner at the prestigious Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson before becoming a judge, ate his lunch in the firm cafeteria and chatted with the employees. Unlike Robert Bork during his confirmation hearing in 1987, Roberts doesn't have a goatee or a tart tongue or a history of service with the Nixon administration.

Indeed, there is a quality of straw-seizing in the anti-Roberts propaganda emanating from the left-of-center interest groups. People for the American Way posted on its website a list of "disturbing" legal positions taken by Roberts; the list included such decidedly ho-hum matters as his support for graduation prayer and his willingness to uphold a state law making it a crime to desecrate the American flag. The National Organization for Women posted photographs of seven women it said had died over the past 76 years because of pre- and post-Roe restrictions on abortion and warned that this "list of lives cut short could grow" if Roberts took the bench. Nan Aron's Alliance for Justice's site opined that if such groups as Focus on the Family and Operation Rescue supported Roberts, there had to be something wrong with him.

Dems will take dissenters, but not a committed Catholic

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  • By rights, Roberts is the sort of brilliant, likable, and highly qualified conservative jurist who, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the left in 1993, ought to pass through confirmation without a hitch no matter what his views. But unrestricted abortion is a sacred icon to the ideologically driven left-of-center interest groups such as America Coming Together, MoveOn.org, and Emily's List that now easily outspend the labor unions where the anti-abortion ethnic Catholics who voted the Democratic ticket used to be.

    Democratic politicians need the interest-group money, so they must come a-groveling to NARAL Pro-Choice America, as the Democratic presidential candidates did last year, and swear that they will uphold Roe vs. Wade forever. Those interest groups will tolerate Catholics, such as 2004 presidential candidate John F. Kerry, who openly dissent from their church's teachings regarding abortion and related issues, but they will not tolerate any Catholic politician or judge who actually believes in what his church has to say.

    The Senate Democrats, obliged to do the bidding of the ideologues who control the party purse strings, are in a tough spot. They will not look pretty hectoring the affable family man Roberts in committee hearings, much less filibustering around the clock on the Senate floor about how "out of the mainstream" they think he is.

    Not surprisingly, some Democrats are looking for ways to avoid this no-win battle. But if they put up a fight, expect it to be about only one issue, abortion, and expect them to try to create a religious litmus test for sitting on the Supreme Court. The onetime party of Catholics will have turned into the party of anti-Catholicism.

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