Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Search
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Opening Statements Lay Out Positions in Roberts Hearing; Mike Brown Steps Down as FEMA Director

Aired September 12, 2005 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're continuing to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee. They've just taken a break after about two hours of opening statements. They're going to continue their sessions, more opening statements coming up. We'll go back there as soon as they resume that session.
But we've learned quite a bit, at least about some of the stakeout position, the opening positions of Democrats and Republicans. Let's bring back CNN's Jeff Greenfield, who was watching it, the past two hours together with us.

Jeff, give us a little flavor of what you think stands out after two hours of opening statements.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one, a clear divide along party lines with the single exception of Arlen Specter, the chairman, on just how much Judge Roberts should be pressed on issues.

Arlen Specter, the one Republican who said, "I need to know things from you about how you feel, particularly about the Supreme Court's knocking down of so many congressional laws."

Otherwise, the other Republicans have been saying, "You shouldn't answer a whole lot of questions about how you might vote. The documents you wrote were confidential."

On the Democratic side the argument being, "You're a lifetime judge. If you get on that Supreme Court you'll be the chief justice for the next generation. We have to know where you stand, particularly on basic constitutional rights."

And by the way, as Senator Feingold just finished saying, "Why can't we see what you wrote."

Senator Kennedy, in so many words, said, "We hope you don't have nothing to hide."

These are early stakeout grounds. You're going to see the payoff, Wolf, tomorrow when they actually begin questioning Judge Roberts.

BLITZER: And the questioning should be very interesting.

What about you, Jeff Toobin? Give us your immediate reaction, two hours of opening statements. JEFF TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My immediate reaction is my entire life as a lawyer and as a human being, the issue above all others in the Supreme Court has been abortion.

I mean, I thought, you know, Dianne Feinstein really put it out there and, you know, with her very vivid description of the crisis in women's lives that abortions cause. And, you know, there are so many issues that come before the court, but the one that remains the galvanizing force on both sides is abortion.

And we're going to hear a lot about the power of the federal government and we're going to talk some about church state issues and racial discrimination. But abortion will be the issue in this confirmation hearing, and it's been in every single one since 1973. And that's just an extraordinary change in American politics, because it wasn't even on the agenda before 1973 on the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: John Ashcroft, the former attorney general of the United States, former Republican senator, he's with us, as well.

Do you think it's really possible, because a lot of people out there suggest, you know, it will never happen, but do you think it's possible to turn back the clock before Roe vs. Wade and abortion rights for women would be made illegal?

JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, the word "possible" is very broad.

One thing that's interested me about the hearings so far is that a group of senators, mostly on the Democrat and more liberal side, that believe in an ever-expanding and evolving Constitution that doesn't require formal amendment but just simply can be amended and expanded by judges.

That sort of evolutionary idea about a Constitution is one of the things they're criticizing when they say that the Rehnquist court began to turn back the clock and say the federal government shouldn't have that much authority. And for those who want to believe in the evolution of something, they have to be careful, because something that evolves in one direction may end up evolving back in another direction.

So I think one other point that I would make about the hearing is that there are some suggestions that this is a justice of the Supreme Court that there is an expectation for leadership on. The idea we've had highly divided courts.

And Chairman Specter of the judiciary committee kind of is asking how can we have more unity on the court and how can we avoid -- and, frankly, that's a tough question because I don't think anybody expects a nominee to the court, for the sake of unity, to give up what they think to be the merits of specific issues.

BLITZER: From John Ashcroft, let's bring in Senator Patrick Leahy. He's the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee. Senator Leahy, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us. Two hours so far of opening statements. Did anything surprise you yet?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), DEMOCRAT: Well, I think that one of the things many of us wanted to do is point out the fact that we have 280 million Americans who are going to be affected by John Roberts if he becomes chief justice. There's only a hundred Americans -- actually in this case, only 18 Americans who get to ask him questions in these hearings.

And I was struck by many who are saying, yes, we should ask these questions, after all on behalf of 280 million Americans. But then I was somewhat disturbed that there were some who talked as though, well, don't answer any questions. You shouldn't answer any questions.

That's really not the American way, and that is not the way we should be when we're talking about somebody who's going -- supposed to protect the rights of all Americans, no matter what their political leanings, no matter what party or no party they belong to.

BLITZER: Well, what many of the Republicans are saying is that Judge Roberts should follow the example of the two Democratic appointees and nominees, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

LEAHY: Well, I...

BLITZER: They refused to answer some specific hypothetical questions, as well.

LEAHY: They answered -- as you know, Wolf, they answered a whole lot of questions. Contrary to the White House talking points, they said -- they answered an awful lot of questions. They answered, actually, far more questions, I think, than any confirmed justice had answered up to that point. I think the time is long gone that somebody could do it without answering questions.

Of course, there was a time when you didn't have hearings. They didn't have to answer questions, but you had to have basically unanimous consent in the Senate before they name -- the name could even come up for a vote.

Now, fortunately we've gone beyond that time, but, again, out of respect for 280 million Americans who will be affected long after the president's gone, long after all of us are gone, we ought to ask questions.

BLITZER: Well, what question will you specifically ask John Roberts? And what do you want to hear specifically on the issue of Roe vs. Wade, abortion rights for women?

LEAHY: I think...

BLITZER: In other words, what would satisfy you to vote to confirm him based on his answer? LEAHY: I'm not going to make up my mind just on a question of Roe vs. Wade. There's an awful lot of other issues beyond that. I think it would be a bad mistake, as some commentators have made. You have not, but some have said it all revolves around that.

There are so many issues involving some environmental issues, rights of individuals to sue their government, the question of whether the president, at a time when we face any kind of a terrorist threat, something we'll face the rest of our lives, can the president be above the law?

The rights of all Americans, no matter what their color, no matter where they come from. These are all issues that should be answered.

I spent at least close to three hours now on more than one meeting with Judge Roberts. He's been very forthcoming in answering questions from me. I'm hoping he'll do the same in these hearings.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say you basically have an open mind or -- at this point?

LEAHY: Judge Roberts met in my office, he and I and Senator Specter, this morning. Both Senator Specter and I have said that we have an open mind. We'll make up our mind at the end of these hearings.

Actually, you know, that's kind of an old-fashioned way of doing things. You actually hear the evidence before you make up your mind. I wish more senators would do the same thing.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Leahy, before I let you get back to work. Help our viewers, and they're watching out there, help them better understand what we're about to see, the history this coming up. Give us a little viewer's guide, two or three points that you think we should be paying attention to in the questions and the answers.

LEAHY: I think the most important thing to remember, this is a lifetime appointment. Everybody watching should ask themselves the same question we should be asking ourselves: if I had a matter that involved my rights, my basic rights, and I had to go before the Supreme Court, would I feel that I would have, in John Roberts, somebody who would listen to my argument, make up his mind based on what I have, or would I be facing somebody who's already made up his mind on that issue?

If it's the latter, he shouldn't be on the Supreme Court. If it's the former, then he has a good chance of being confirmed.

BLITZER: You're going to go back. They're going to resume this hearing when?

LEAHY: We're going to resume the hearing in just a few minutes. Both Senator Specter and I hope we can finish these hearings this week. We're going to do everything possible to do that. BLITZER: Good luck, Senator Leahy. Thanks for spending a few moments with us.

LEAHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to watch this hearing. Once it resumes, we'll go back there.

We're also watching the president of the United States; he's in Gulfport, Mississippi, right now, continuing his tour of the devastated area. Earlier today he was on the streets of New Orleans. We'll update you on everything that's happening on both of these important stories we're watching.

Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Our special coverage, the confirmation hearings of John Roberts to be the chief justice of the United States, the committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, they're on a break right now. We'll go back there as soon as they resume their session.

Many more opening statements coming up, and eventually later today we'll be hearing directly from John Roberts himself in his opening statement.

There's other news that we're watching, though. CNN's Kyra Phillips is joining us once again from the CNN Center with that.

Hi, Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, HOST, "CNN LIVE FROM": Hi, Wolf. Thanks so much.

We'll return to you and THE SITUATION ROOM once the Roberts hearings resume, of course, but we're going to check on the latest developments just along the Gulf Coast.

We're following reports now of some kind of explosion at a chemical plant in South Carolina. Two local television stations there reporting that a blast occurred at a cybertech facility in Taylors, just near Greenville in the northwest corner of the state. At least two people are said to be hurt. Three nearby schools are being evacuated. We're going to bring you more details as soon as we get them.

President Bush today on the ground in New Orleans, his first such visit to the devastated city since Katrina hit two weeks ago. He saw firsthand the nearly total ruin, destroyed homes, office buildings, debris filled streets.

Mr. Bush declared that progress is being made, though that a lot of hard work remains to be done still. He's also toured the hard hit surrounding Louisiana parishes by helicopter and has just arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi, to assess the damage there. We'll follow his visit.

And as if E. Coli levels aren't enough to keep people out of the water in New Orleans, a new warning from the Environmental Protection Agency just a short time ago. In a prelim advisory, the EPA reports that high levels of lead were found in the standing floodwaters. Samples were taken September 3, just four days of after Hurricane Katrina hit. Final results are awaiting further review. That lead is particularly dangerous, as you know, if ingested by small children. We'll continue to update you on that.

And surging gasoline prices easily passed the previous all-time highs, as you probably know firsthand, but they may well have crested. The well-known Lundberg Survey finds that the average price of self- serve regular jumped 38 cents a gallon after vital Gulf pipelines and refineries were knocked offline.

Want to take you back now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM as those hearings continue. I see Arlen Specter right there, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Kyra. Let's go back to the hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee. Arlen Specter is waiting for the other members to come back in. We're going to watch to see. Once he convenes this session, we'll go there.

Arlen Specter is the chairman, Republican of Pennsylvania. He supports abortion rights for women, but he is very much interested and anxious to make sure that this process goes forward smoothly, does not become acrimonious over the next several cases. He's watching individuals coming back.

There's John Roberts himself. He's coming back from the break. About a 15-minute break.

He's now introducing Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We're all very much appreciating it. Judge Roberts, playing a little bit off of what my colleague, Senator Feingold, said, I don't think you expected it to be easy, and having to listen to 18 senators proves the act that it's not going to be easy. But I hope that we will live up to our end of the bargain to make it fair.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SENATOR CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D), NY: ... And we all know that it is the ice beneath the surface that can sink the ship.

For this reason, it is our obligation to ask and your obligation to answer questions about your judicial philosophy and legal ideology. If you can't answer these questions, how are we to determine whether you're in the mainstream? A simple resume, no matter how distinguished, cannot answer that question.

So for me, the first criterion upon which I will base my vote is whether you will answer questions fully and forthrightly. We do not want to trick you, badger you, or play a game of gotcha. That is why I met with you privately three times, and that's why I gave you a list of questions in advance of these hearings.

It's not enough to say you will be fair. If that were enough, we'd have no need for a hearing. I have no doubt you believe you'll be a fair judge.

I have no doubt that Justice Scalia thinks he is a fair judge and that Justice Ginsburg thinks she is a fair judge. But in case after case, they rule differently. They approach the Constitution differently. And they affect the lives of 280 million Americans differently.

That is so, even though both Scalia and Ginsburg believe that they are fair. You should be prepared to explain your views of the First Amendment and civil rights and environmental rights, religious liberty, privacy, workers' rights, women's rights and a host of other issues relevant to the most powerful lifetime post in the nation.

Now, having established that ideology and judicial philosophy are important, what's the best way to go about questioning on these subjects?

The best way I believe is through understanding your views about particular past cases, not future cases that haven't been decided, but past, already-decided cases. It's not the only way, but it's the best and most straightforward way.

Some have argued that questioning a nominee about his or her personal views of the Constitution or about decided cases indicates prejudgment about a future case. It does nothing of the sort.

Most nominees who have come before us, including Justice Ginsburg, whose precedents you often cite, have answered such questions.

Contrary to popular mythology, when she was a nominee, Justice Ginsburg gave lengthy answers to scores of questions about constitutional law and decided cases, including individual autonomy, the First Amendment, criminal law, choice, discrimination and gender equality.

Although there were places she said she did not want to answer, she spoke about dozens of Supreme Court cases and often gave her unvarnished impressions, suggesting that some were problematic in their reasoning while others were eloquent in their vindication of important constitutional principles.

And nominee after nominee, from Powell to Thomas to Breyer, answered numerous questions about decided cases, and no one every questioned their fitness to hear cases on issues raised during confirmation hearings.

So I hope you'll decide to answer questions about decided cases, which so many other nominees have done. If you refuse to talk about already decided cases, the burden, sir, is on you, one of the most preeminent litigators in America, to figure out a way, in plain English, to help us determine whether you'll be a conservative but mainstream conservative chief justice or an ideologue.

Let me be clear: I know you're a conservative. I don't expect your views to mirror mine. After all, President Bush won the election and everyone understands that he will nominate conservatives to the court.

But while we certainly do not expect the court to move to the left under the president, it should not move radically to the right.

You told me when we met that you were not an ideologue and you share my aversion to ideologues. Yet, you've been embraced by some of the most extreme ideologues in America, like the leader of Operation Rescue.

That gives rise to a question many are asking: What do they know that we don't?

Judge Roberts, if you want my vote, you need to meet two criteria.

First, you need to answer questions fully so we can ascertain your judicial philosophy.

And, second, once we have ascertained your philosophy, it must be clear that it is in the broad mainstream.

Judge Roberts, if you answer important questions forthrightly and convince me you're a jurist in the broad mainstream, I'll be able to vote for you. And I would like to be able to vote for you.

But if you do not, I will not be able to vote for you.

Mr. Chairman, I have high hopes for these hearings. I want, and the American people want, a dignified, respectful hearing process, open, fair, thorough, above board; one that not only brings dignity but, even more importantly, information about Judge Roberts' views and ideology to the American people.

I, along with all of America, look forward to hearing your testimony.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA Thank you, Senator Schumer.

Senator Cornyn?

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Judge Roberts, let me also join in extending a warm welcome to you and your family of these hearings. As the 15th speaker in the order of seniority here, I recall the adage I learned when I first came to Washington that everything's been said, but not everyone has said it yet.

BLITZER: Congressional Correspondent Joe Johns, he's up on Capitol Hill right now. He's watching this hearing. He's got some new information for us -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what I'm watching at the moment is the rapid response between the Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. A lot of e-mails flying around. In fact, Senator Leahy, the top Democrat on the committee, actually has a Web site set up to try to keep track of these hearings.

But what's interesting is one of the battles we've heard off the Hill for weeks and weeks, this is a battle over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, how her hearings were handled and whether there should be a precedent set for this Roberts hearing now. The issue, of course, is how forthcoming she was, how much she talked about her personal views on particular cases, particular issues in the law and whether Roberts should follow that.

A lot of Democrats, of course, are saying she was very open, she was very responsive and that's the way Roberts should behave. A lot of Republicans are saying the fact of the matter is, she didn't answer dozens of questions, refused to answer, because she was afraid it might affect her judicial impartiality.

The truth of it was she's up there a very long time and both sides are right. She did decide not to answer a lot of questions. She also, in fact, was very responsive, particularly on the issue of privacy. So both sides are right. This is a debate we've heard for a while and we'll probably continue to hear it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Basically, Joe -- correct me if I'm wrong -- what John Roberts is going to say, I assume he's going to say is, he doesn't want to speculate about cases that could come before the Supreme Court, but he might be willing to discuss cases that already have been decided.

JOHNS: Right. And that's sort of the way you would expect him to go forward on this. He has -- we're told he's been counseled not to go too far in that area. So a lot of people don't understand this. But privacy was used as the excuse or the justification for Roe vs. Wade, essentially. So a lot of people are saying, we want you to talk about privacy and what they're really saying is we want you to talk about abortion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns reporting for us. We're going to check back with you, Joe, as these hearings continue.

John Cornyn, the senator -- Republican senator from Texas, he's making his opening statement right now. We'll continue to monitor it, bring you additional opening statements, as well.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeff Toobin right now. Jeff has been watching all of this together with us. Jeff, Chuck Schumer is one of the most important Democrats on this panel. He represents the more liberal wing of the Democratic party. What did you make of his opening statement?

TOOBIN: Well, it really is a theme that he's been pursuing since he's been in the Senate, which is ideology matters, which is, you know, we're not in this process to play gotcha about whether you paid your nanny taxes or not. We want to know what kind of judge you will be and whether you will support legal principles that he views is in the mainstream of America.

And, you know, that's a real divide. A lot -- I mean, a lot of Republicans on the hearing -- in the committee so far, have been saying, we don't want you to answer those questions, we don't want you to commit yourself on these issues. And that distinction between about how much we know about these nominees is one that Roberts is going to have to navigate, in terms of just simply how much he discloses about his views .

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, what did you make of Schumer's statement?

GREENFIELD: Well, it's funny in a way. They bookended Lindsey Graham, the Republican, but they both agree -- at least we know something they agree on, that President Bush won the election. And Schumer is saying, yes, he's going to appoint conservatives. But look at Senator Schumer is saying. He's saying you don't have to tell us how you're going to decide, but I'm going to ask you what you think of past decided cases.

Well, with respect, if Judge Roberts is asked was Roe vs. Wade correctly decided, and he answers yes, that tells you a lot about how he's going to rule in future cases. And if he says no, that really tells you how he might rule in future cases. So that notion of saying we want to know how -- what you think of past decided cases, is, in some way, another way of asking a judge how that judge might rule.

But the other side of this is that there's a -- you know, William Rehnquist, when he was a private lawyer, said the court's gotten so powerful, we have to know how these prospective justices think about policy. And somewhere between the two lines is probably the right middle ground. It's just that you have not heard from neither Republicans nor Democrats, in my view, a coherent middle ground about what you can or can't answer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me bring in John Ashcroft, the former attorney general of the United States, into this discussion. Himself a former U.S. senator, a member of this Judiciary Committee.

How does he walk that fine line in answering questions about cases that have already been -- have already come before the court, but refusing to discuss issues that might be on the agenda, might be on the docket in years to come?

ASHCROFT: Well, I think that's a false dichotomy, that somehow because something has previously been before the court, it can't be something that will later come before the court. As a matter of fact, of the fears and phobias on the committee right now, people are afraid, on the liberal side, that Roe vs. Wade would come back and it would be reversed.

So to say -- and this is what Jeff has clearly outlined the tension -- to say we'll only ask you about things in the past and not things that really forecast the future. That's a copout that simply doesn't wash. The past is an indication about the future and I think he'll be very careful not to make statements which would impair his ability to be independent as a member of the court if issues come up in the future.

And he's had a lot of experience with making statements that are carefully crafted. And I believe he's probably rehearsed and developed answers for these kinds of questions. Because he's met with all of these senators in private, and they have had hearings in their offices, so to speak, on a one-to-one basis, and he's aware of what these questions are going to be.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stand by. We're going to take another quick break. Much more of our coverage. This is history here in the nation's capital right now. Confirmation hearings for the chief justice nominee John Roberts. We'll go back to those hearings. We'll also follow all the day's other developments in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina two weeks to the day, two weeks to the day since that hurricane stormed ashore. Much more of our coverage, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, is making his opening statement right now. Let's listen in.

SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Twelve years ago, at the nomination hearing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my friend Illinois Senator Paul Simon said something worth repeating. He said to the nominee, and I quote, "You face a much harsher judge than this committee. That's the judgment of history. And that judgment is likely to revolve around one question: Did you restrict freedom or did you expand it?"

I think Senator Simon put his finger on how the United States Senate should evaluate a nominee for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Judge Roberts, if you're confirmed, you will be the first Supreme Court justice in the 21st century. The basic question is this: Will you restrict the personal freedoms we enjoy as Americans or will you expand them?

When we met in my office many weeks ago, I gave you a biography of a judge I admire greatly. His name was Frank Johnson, a federal district judge from Alabama and a life-long Republican. Fifty years ago, following the arrest of Rosa Parks, Judge Johnson ruled that African-Americans of Montgomery, Alabama, were acting within their constitutional rights when they organized a boycott of the buses and that Martin Luther King Jr. and others could march from Selma to Montgomery. As a result of those decisions, the Ku Klux Klan branded Johnson the most hated man in America. Wooden crosses were burned on his lawn. He received so many death threats that his family was under constant federal protection from 1961 to 1975.

Judge Frank Johnson was denounced as a judicial activist and threatened with impeachment. He had the courage to expand freedom in America.

Judge Roberts, I hope that you agree America must never return to those days of discrimination and limitations on our freedom.

Now, some of the memos you wrote that I talked to you about in my office many, many years ago in the Reagan administration have raised some serious concerns about where you stand on civil rights, on women's rights, concerns that have led some of the most respected civil rights groups in America to openly oppose your nomination.

So it's important for you at this hearing to answer the questions and to tell us your views on civil rights and equality and the role of courts in protecting these basic freedoms.

This hearing is your opportunity to clarify the record, to explain your views. We can't assume that time or maturity has changed your thinking from those Reagan-era memos.

The refusal of the White House to disclose documents on 16 specific cases you wrote as deputy solicitor general denied this committee more contemporary expressions of your values.

Only your testimony before this committee can convince us that John Roberts of 2005 will be a truly impartial and open-minded chief justice. Concerns have also been raised about some of the things you wrote relative to the right of privacy.

We've gone through Griswold. We know what that Supreme Court decision meant in 1965, 40 years ago, when the court struck down the Connecticut statute which made it a crime for married couples to buy and use birth control. They said there was a fundamental right of privacy in that Constitution, though you can search every word of it, and not find the word privacy. But it's far from settled law in the minds of many.

Forty years later, there have been new efforts to restrict the right of privacy, attempts to impose gag rules on doctors when they speak to their patients about family planning.

You saw it in the sad debate over the tragedy of Terri Schiavo, a debate that led some members of Congress to threaten judges who disagree with their point of view with impeachment.

And you can find it in the eagerness to authorize the government to pry into our financial records, medical records and library records. Whether the court continues to recognize and protect America's right to privacy will have a profound impact on every American from birth to death. In your early writings that we have to rely on here, you referred to this right of privacy as an abstraction. We need to know if that's what you believe.

We also need to hear your views on another basic issue and that is the view on executive power. They don't teach this subject much in law school. It's not tested on any bar exam. It's not been a major focus in many Supreme Court hearings, yet it is very important today.

Some aspects of your record, your early record, when you were an attorney for a president, suggest you might be overly deferential to the executive branch. We need to know where you stand.

Throughout history, during times of war, presidents have tried to restrict liberty in the name of security. The Supreme Court has always been the guardian of our Constitution. It's usually been up to the task but sometimes it's failed such as in the notorious Korematsu decision.

We're being tested again. Will we stand by our Constitution in this age of terrorism? That challenge will fall especially on our Supreme Court and on you, Judge Roberts, if you're confirmed.

We also need to know what you think about religious liberty. Over the past few decades, the Supreme Court has maintained a delicate yet what I believe proper balance between church and state. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said it so well in the recent Ten Commandments decision.

And I quote, "At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate. Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails while allowing private religious exercise to flourish."

Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

I asked you a question when you came by to see me, which I'm not sure either one of us could answer at that moment.

I asked you: Who has the burden of proof at this hearing? Do you have the burden to prove that you are a person worthy thing of a lifetime appointment before the Supreme Court or do we have the burden to prove that President Bush was wrong in selecting you?

Your position as Supreme Court justice, chief justice, gives you extraordinary power: to appoint 11 judges on the FISA court, which has the authority to issue warrants for searches and wiretaps of American citizens, all the way to the establishment of rules of criminal and civil procedure.

No one has the right to sit on that court. No one has the right to be chief justice. But they can earn it through a hearing such as the one which we have today. I'd like to say that I spoke earlier about the courage of Frank Johnson. A few months ago another judge of rare courage testified before this committee. Her name is Joan Lefkow. She's a federal judge in Chicago and I was honored to nominate her.

Last February, her husband and mother were murdered in her home by a deranged man who was angry that she had dismissed his lawsuit.

In her remarks to the committee, Judge Lefkow said that the murders of her family members were, quote, "a direct result of a decision made in the course of fulfilling our duty to do justice without fear or favor."

In my view, that is the only proper test for a Supreme Court justice: Will he do justice without fear or favor? Will he expand freedom for all Americans as Judge Frank Johnson, the condemned judicial activist, once did.

I congratulate you, Judge Roberts, on your nomination, your accomplished career, and I look forward to these hearings to give you your chance in the next several days, not to rely on 20-year-old memos or innuendoes and statements by those who are not part of the hearing, but in your own words a chance to tell us and to tell the American people what you truly believe.

If you believe that you have the burden at this hearing to establish why you are worthy of this, the highest ranking position of a judge in America, I hope that you will be forthcoming.

DURBIN: If you do not answer the questions, if you hold back, if you believe, as some on the other side have suggested, that you have no responsibility to answer these questions, I'm afraid the results will not be as positive. I certainly hope that they will be positive.

Thank you.

SPECTER: Thank you, Senator Durbin.

I recognize now Senator Brownback and also recognize today is his birthday.

(APPLAUSE)

SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Thank you very much. And this is certainly a long way to spend it. It's seeming like a long birthday.

Thank you.

Judge Roberts, as one of my colleagues was just saying, I hope we're done before my birthday ends. I welcome you to the court. Delighted to have you here, you and your family. I want to congratulate you on your lifetime of service thus far and looking forward to future service that you'll have for this great land.

I recall the meeting that you and I had in my office, as many of the members have here have as well, and enjoyed them. You said two things in there that I particularly took away and hung on as an indicator of yourself and how you would look at the courts...

BLITZER: We're going to break the hearing for a moment.

CNN has now confirmed -- CNN has now confirmed that Mike Brown, the embattled FEMA director, the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- Mike Brown has resigned as FEMA director, only days after being removed from being on the scene in charge of the hurricane relief efforts, Katrina. Now he has come back to Washington, and he has resigned his post as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As you know, as our viewers know, everyone by now knows, he has been under severe criticism, severe criticism, for his handling of the immediate aftermath, the preparation for Hurricane Katrina and the immediate aftermath, and underscoring his inability, his failure to know certain events that should have been taking place, including what was going on at the convention center in New Orleans.

CNN's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is watching all of this. Jeff, I don't think any of us should be very surprised that Mike Brown has now formally resigned, has stepped down. He was pretty much humiliated by the administration over the past few days.

GREENFIELD: This is not only not man by its dog, it isn't even dog by its man. It's dog eat bone. This has got to be the least surprising news development in a very long time. When you are publicly told to get out of the emergency area you are supposed to be running and sent back to Washington by your superior, it is probably time to start polishing your resume.

And it is not -- it is not exactly unknown in politics that when you are facing substantial political heat, somebody takes the fall, and it's usually not the president of the United States or one of his top aides. Stuff rolls downhill, is an old military expression. And I think Mike Brown now is experiencing that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in John Ashcroft, the former attorney general who served during the first four years of the Bush administration. This is a president, as you well know, who doesn't easily dump very loyal aides.

ASHCROFT: Well, the president is a person who cares deeply about the people who work with him and work for him. And I think that's the reason that Mike Brown and the president have enjoyed a good relationship. But Mike has decided that he'll pursue other things at this time. I think there will be a significant time for finding out how -- evaluating the performance of the response to this disaster. And I suspect that when it's finally done, it will be put in the context not only of this situation, but of other disasters.

We had things that went pretty well last year in Florida. We had things that don't seem at the current juncture to be going that well in -- on the Gulf Coast reason -- region. Now's the time to fix the problem, not to try and fix the blame. And there will come a time when I think there will be a substantial inquiry to try and find out how things can work so well in one setting and maybe not work well at all in another.

BLITZER: I think, Mr. Ashcroft, what really hurt his credibility was when he acknowledged on national television that he was not informed about the thousands and thousands of people who were holed up at the convention center, as opposed to the Superdome in New Orleans, at the convention center without food, without water, without medical treatment. Horrible things were going on, and he had to admit on television he did not know anything about that. That was really the kiss of death, as far as his career as FEMA director was concerned.

ASHCROFT: I think that was a very, very telling moment. And obviously I think that played a big role in the acts of both his being relieved and his own personal decision.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, let me bring you back in. How much, if anything, does this do to help the president with his own political problems that have emerged over the past couple weeks?

ASHCROFT: Well, I've heard people who were supporters of the president say, well, you got to give him credit, you know, for taking Mike Brown out of this situation and replacing him -- putting in General Honore and putting in people who are apparently more, quote, "action-oriented."

I think if I had to speculate, which is I guess what we're doing here, that one line that Democrats are going to seize on, already have and will seize on for some time to come, is the comment early on after Katrina hit, when the president turned to Michael Brown and said, Brown, you're doing a heck of a job. I suspect there will literally will be tee-shirts with that slogan on it for sale in some of the more liberals communities in America within about 72 hours.

Obviously, they're trying to lance the boil. And the president's in the region again today. This is his third visit. He may be going back, for all I know, again within a matter of days. But I think it's fair to say that when you make a comment like that -- Brown, are you doing a heck of a job -- and then the contrast between what people see and that comment is so dramatic, it has some political fallout.

But I also think, just very quickly, we ought not to overstate this. The president took a hit with what happened with the performance of everybody, because he's the guy at the top. But it's a long way from now to any place where the voters get to weigh in and make a decision on this.

BLITZER: John Ashcroft, this does the president an opportunity now to name a new FEMA director, FEMA now being part of the Department of Homeland Security, and put someone in charge who will reassure a jittery nation right now that the administration has its hands in the right place and knows how to deal with an emergency of this nature. Do you have any names that jump to mind, from your perspective?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say that I think the president has, in some respect, asserted his own interest, and his own presence. His recurrent visits to the Gulf indicate that this -- his response now, and the response of this administration, is going to transcend FEMA.

It's going to be a multidimensional, multi-disciplinary, multi- departmental response. And the president, basically, I believe, has energized people across the government. And that's appropriate, given the scale and the nature of the disaster there. So, yes, I think it's an opportunity for the president to appoint someone and to appoint someone who has the kind of capacity and standing that will inspire confidence.

But I think the country is expecting the president to continue his personal interest in this. And I think we will see that. After 9/11, the president really decided on a daily basis. We met with him every day in the White House. He was personally involved and engaged. And I think you are beginning to see that kind of focus from the president himself.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, how important is it now that Mike Brown, the FEMA director, has stepped down, has resigned? How important would it be for the president to clean out the other political operatives who were brought into the top jobs at the -- at the Federal Emergency Management Agency with limited, if any, experience in emergencies and disasters?

GREENFIELD: Yes. I think the question is how much that sticks, how much it becomes a matter of public perception, the charge that the president staffed FEMA with political appointees.

The problem here -- and it happens to any president -- every president at one point or another, is, you begin to then see -- you begin to see people beginning to say things that, when the president was more popular, they didn't. Both newsweeklies, "TIME" and "Newsweek," have ticktocks, as they call them, what-went-wrong accounts that -- and both make the point, which I haven't seen made that often in the past, that the president doesn't like bad news, that aides fear to tell him that things are going badly.

Now, if this were true, you'd think it would be true for the first four years. But, when the president was relatively popular, for some reason or another, the media didn't seem to be filled with these accounts. Now that the president is in trouble, we get these stories that, well, that they don't really like to tell that him things are going badly. And maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe nobody wanted to tell him earlier.

So, what you are fighting, if you're the president, is not just the resignation of one highly criticized official, but a kind of media sense that, gee, maybe there are some problems in the way this president makes decisions. And that may be fair or it may be unfair, but it's a fact of political life that, to quote that great basketball philosopher Bill Russell, when things go bad, they go bad.

BLITZER: Mike Brown telling the Associated Press that he's decided to resign in the best interest of the agency -- that would be FEMA -- and the interests of the president. Brown goes on to say the focus has to be on FEMA.

"The focus has got to be on FEMA," he says, "what the people are trying to do down there." Mike Brown has resigned.

Paul Begala is our CNN analyst. He's watching all of this unfold.

What do you make of this, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president's political problem in all the polls lately has been one that he's never faced before. And that is, his ranking among voters on the dynamic of being a strong leader is collapsing. It's down 11 points in several of the public polls that I have seen this week.

So, the president is trying to take strong action. I have to say, if I were advising the president, I would have told him to publicly fire Mike Brown, rather than giving him the grace -- I mean, it was very nice of the president to allow him to resign, but I think the president needs to show stronger leadership here and outright fire the guy.

BLITZER: And what would that -- what would that -- I mean, if -- what would that serve? He's already resigned now.

BEGALA: Well, now it's too late. Right.

I mean, I guess the president is hurting and, again, as I say, in a way he never has before; 9/11 really cemented an image of the president as a strong and decisive leader. Even his critics were saying that. But I think Katrina has cracked that cement enormously. Now people are starting to wonder, as Jeff points out, is the president disengaged or is he not a strong enough leader? How did he not know what was going on and how did he not fire this man 10 days or two weeks ago?

BLITZER: You know, when he was -- the other day, when Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, announced he was bringing Michael Brown back to Washington, basically, still has FEMA director, but not to have anything to do with the Katrina recovery on the scene, and to name Vice Admiral -- Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, make him in charge of the actual work, that was one of the most humiliating steps that could be done to someone. I was pretty surprised at that time that Mike Brown didn't resign on the spot.

BEGALA: Well, I think you are right. I think that was an incredible display of humiliation. And Mr. Chertoff, I think, tried to put as good a light on it as he could. But it was terribly -- it was a, I thought well deserved, but terribly humiliating for Mr. Brown.

And now look -- look at what's happened. The president's political adversaries have gotten out ahead of him. Yesterday, on the Sunday talk shows, Senator Barack Obama from Illinois was saying, gee, if I were Mike Brown, I would have resigned by now. Now, within 24 hours, he's doing just what the Democrats called on him to do yesterday.

That's a position no White House ever wants to be in, responding to its critics. And this White House has been very good the past four-and-a-half years about staying on the offense. But somehow now, they are back on their heels. And I think this -- even this resignation, I think a good one for the president, was handled in a way that does not reinforce his image as a strong leader. And that's what's hurting the president right now.

BLITZER: And it certainly steps on the message of the John Roberts confirmation hearing today. If the White House was anxious for the American public to focus in on John Roberts today, Mike Brown's decision to resign, coming right in the middle of these opening statements, certainly is not necessarily, from the public- relations perspective, the best way to handle this story.

But let's go over to the White House.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by.

Suzanne, what are you picking up?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned from two administration sources that, in fact is correct, that Mike Brown has resigned as the head of FEMA.

I want to take you back a little bit a couple of weeks. You may recall that, when President Bush was on the ground with Mike Brown, he said something. He said, you are doing one heck of a job, Brownie, and congratulated him at that time. Of course, the difference that one week made. That is when he essentially was sent back to Washington.

Here's somewhat of a ticktock. Here's how it has played out. It was on Wednesday. This was just a couple of days after, of course, the hurricane hit, that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff told the president that he was not pleased with Brown's performance and that, in fact, that it was his intention at least to move him from being responsible on the ground back to Washington.

That following day, we are told as well, there were discussions that took place between Vice President Cheney, as well as Chertoff, Cheney, again, receiving an earful, we are told, from Republicans and Democrats on the ground, who were essentially saying that there were so many missteps involved, they did not feel confident in his ability to carry out the emergency and recovery effort.

Of course, that was relayed to the president. The president gave him the green light, said, go ahead, do what you need to do, that, of course, saving face to move him in a position back to Washington, this, of course, Wolf, a much more significant turn of events, the fact that Mike Brown is, indeed, stepping down.

BLITZER: How important was the fact that his resume, his official resume, his biography on the FEMA Web site, was apparently embellished? How important was that, based on what you are hearing behind the scenes, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, it certainly is an embarrassment to the administration. They've given very little information, even refusing to confirm whether or not his resume was, in fact, padded or embellished in some way, really trying to avoid that question.

But it should be noted that the president has been dogged by this issue, really, for the last two weeks, really from the very beginning. Even today, in the pool situation, our own Dana Bash trying to get to the president to ask him once again, do you have confidence in Mike Brown, in that leadership role, as director of FEMA? Obviously, the president trying to avoid that for days on end.

Clearly, it was something that this White House, this administration, just could not handle.

BLITZER: Suzanne, Thad Allen, the vice admiral, the Coast Guard vice admiral for more than three decades, he's been the man designated by the secretary of homeland security and the president to be in charge of this Katrina relief the recovery effort, the reconstruction effort.

I assume his name has to be very high on the list as a possible successor to Mike Brown. I don't know if you are picking up any nibbles out there about other names or how quickly the president will move on this front. But what are you hearing?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, what we're hearing is certainly that this is a man who stepped in even before Mike Brown essentially was put aside, cast aside. This is someone who was already carrying that out, carrying that duty out by his actions, as well as that title, that that is something they are certainly considering, that he has moved in very quickly, that we have seen poll numbers improve. We have seen morale improve, that, overall, they think that the effort that the administration is doing has improved tremendously over the last 10 or so days, that when that transition was made. So, he is certainly one of those candidates.

BLITZER: And he's a career professional, certainly not someone who is political, as Mike Brown certainly was, and the first FEMA director under this president, Joe Allbaugh, who was the president's campaign manager in the 2000 campaign, very close friend of the president's.

I assume they'll want to get somebody in that job who is not going to necessarily bring that kind of close political relationship with the White House. But that's just an assumption.

Suzanne, you hearing anything on that?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's really too soon, Wolf, to say whether or not that is the case. We know that they don't want a political operative, somebody, of course, who clearly has experience in this emergency relief effort.

One of the big criticisms of the administration has been, since we have heard the controversy of Mike Brown's resume, is the fact that many of these positions within FEMA, within Homeland Security, there are individuals who don't have experience when it comes to emergency preparedness and recovery. That is one of the things the administration is trying to overcome, that perception, as well as that reality.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you very much -- Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent.

We're standing by to speak with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. We will get to Capitol Hill shortly. We will ask him about the Mike Brown resignation, ask him about the confirmation hearings for John Roberts.

Let me bring in CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's in New York watching all of this with us.

Jack, you've been pretty hard on Mike Brown over the past few days, as our regular viewers here on THE SITUATION ROOM know. What do you make of this decision by him to formally resign?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a couple of things.

Paul Begala alluded to it a minute ago. It's another example here today, from where I'm sitting, of events managing the White House, instead of the White House managing events. Today is the day that we have got John Roberts, President Bush's selection to be the next chief justice of the United States, goes before the Congress. The hearings begin. And, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, the spotlight shifts back to something that I'm sure that everybody in the White House would just as soon not talk about, which is the dismal failure of FEMA in the New Orleans hurricane situation.

Why they didn't fire this clown last week is a mystery to me. It's very un-Karl Rove-like to leave themselves open for the kind of switching of the front page to back to talking about this. Now, all of a sudden, we're not talking about John Robert. We're talking about Mike Brown. There's a whole list of political hacks underneath Mr. Brown at FEMA. This thing was nothing more than a political dumping ground for campaign managers, people who planned presidential trips, people who worked on commercials for the Bush reelection machine.

This guy, his previous experience was working with Arabian horses in Colorado, lies all over his resume, which we detailed last week here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And why somebody didn't persuade President Bush over the weekend to just axe this guy is a mystery to me, because now, all of a sudden, he's being slapped around and embarrassed by the Brown situation yet again, when I'm sure they'd all prefer to be focused on the Roberts confirmation, which is expected to happen without incident, barring some gigantic surprise.

So, the question now is, now that Brown is gone, who would you like to see as the next head of FEMA? And maybe -- I wonder if anybody is going to do anything about the rest of the political hacks at the top of that operation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And people can start e-mailing you their answers, CaffertyFile@CNN.com.

Jack, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Senator Ted Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

I want to talk about the hearings in a moment, Senator.

But what's your reaction to Mike Brown's decision to step down, to resign as the FEMA director?

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I think it's clearly in the country's interest.

We remember that, when we had James Lee Witt, who was President Clinton's head of FEMA, who did an outstanding job, got accolades from Republicans and Democrats alike, north, south, east and west. I think perhaps we ought to consider a separate commission to take responsibility for the redevelopment of the whole Gulf area.

FEMA has to deal with 35 to 40 crises and natural disasters that we have every year. Homeland Security has to deal with homeland security. We need some kind of a commission made up of outstanding individuals, maybe General Powell the head of it, even Rudy Giuliani, that would have the confidence of the American people, be the principal contracting agency and then disappear after the job was done. I think that is really the way to go.

BLITZER: Some people are already suggesting over the past few days that Mike Brown was really being made a scapegoat for the blunders that occurred in the immediate aftermath of this hurricane, even as the hurricane was approaching the Gulf Coast. Is that a fair criticism?

KENNEDY: Well, I think the suggestions that have been made about having an independent commission to go over this whole tragedy makes a good deal of sense.

The immediacy, of course, is that, with the mistakes, with the continued hurricane season that's going on now, we can't wait a long time. We need to have top people in the top jobs at this very moment. We haven't really got the luxury of waiting a long time, because we still have the hurricane season and we also have the potential of other natural disasters and other crises in homeland security. So, we have to get on with it.

We ought to get on with competency. We ought to get on with effectiveness. But I have been at the Roberts hearings all day, so I'm listening to CNN and catching up on the news.

BLITZER: All right, let's -- let's talk about the hearings a little bit. What do you make of the opening statements? They have basically been completed at this point. Senator Lugar of Indiana is introducing the nominee, John Roberts. What do you -- what do you think of the way it went so far?

KENNEDY: Well, outside of our vote to go to war, the vote on the Supreme Court nominee is our most important responsibility, shared responsibility with the president of the United States.

The -- these hearings are an opportunity for the American people to get to know Judge Roberts. I think that one of the concerns I would have and one of the baffling aspects of the hearings today are all of our Republican friends advising him not to be responsive and not to answer sort of questions.

These are -- are questions that will be asked and not with regards to a particular case, but to get some sense about, does he understand that, when we had Katrina last week, that we had millions of Americans who have been left out and left behind, and that we need to continue the march to progress to make sure we are an inclusive society and not going to leave out those -- those who have been left out and left behind in our society to date. That's really the issue. That's the question.

BLITZER: When he came up before your committee, before the -- as a judge in the D.C. Court of Appeals, you voted against him then. What would it take for you now, Senator Kennedy, to confirm him?

KENNEDY: Well, I think we have made an enormous march to progress in the last 40 or 50 years. This has been under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We have made progress in knocking down the walls of discrimination on race, on gender, on disability, on national origin. And we include those who are disabled in the mainstream of American life.

We want to continue that march of progress. I think we're a better and a fairer country. I think the question before Judge Roberts is, whose side is he going to be on? Is he going to be for continuing that march of progress in the United States or is he going to have a cramped, narrow view that says, look, we have done too much; now it's a time for retrenchment?

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Kennedy, before I let you get back into that hearing. If -- if the Republicans say he's going to follow Ruth Bader Ginsburg's example in ducking certain questions, if he does that, would it be appropriate?

KENNEDY: The Ruth Bader Ginsburg was -- answered questions very extensively. I have gone through all of the hearings and she answered questions extensively.

If you look at the record or read the record, you'll find that Senator Hatch commented about how extensive her answers will be. So, this is -- this really doesn't hold up. The fact is, no one should expect the nominee to answer on a specific question, but the American people want to know, whose side is this judge on? Is he going to be on their side in terms of knocking down the walls of discrimination, prejudice? Is he going to be on their side about clean air and clean water and about making sure the disabled are going to be part of the American family? Or is he going to be on the special interests' side?

That's really what the issue is about. We will ask questions about it. Hopefully, we will get some answers.

BLITZER: I know you'll start asking those questions tomorrow, together with all your colleagues.

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, thank you very much for joining us.

Let's go back to the former attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft. He's here in our D.C. studio.

What do you make of the points that Senator Kennedy just made, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg really did answer a whole lot of questions and, if John Roberts does the same, that would be good?

ASHCROFT: Well, I think John Roberts will be very forthcoming. And I think he'll be as open as it's appropriate for him to be, without compromising his capacity to be the kind of independent member of the court that he's expected to be.

If you'll remember the earlier remarks by Senator Hatch and Senator Kyl, they detailed her ability to draw a line and to say, no hints, no statements. Certain questions, she simply wasn't going to answer. Senator Hatch pointed out that happened more than 80 times. So, while she did make responses, she had to draw a line. It was clear as well that they allowed her to draw that line. And that was one of the points that Senator Hatch made in his speech, that the line had to be drawn, and there was a responsibility on the part of senators to respect the line drawn by the nominee.

BLITZER: All right, John Ashcroft, stand by.

I want to remind our viewers the breaking news that we have been reporting now for about 15, 20 minutes or so. Mike Brown, the FEMA director, has resigned. We're going to go back to the hearings. John Warner, the senator from Virginia, is introducing John Roberts.

But our John King, our chief national correspondent, is with us.

John, what your picking up on this Mike Brown resignation?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you see a very interesting, a very quick decision here by the administration, Mike Brown saying he resigned of his own volition.

But it was crystal clear when he was relieved of command in Louisiana and sent back to Washington that his days as FEMA director were numbered. Now, this is a president who in the past has simply refused to give in to his political critics in the other party. Many thought Mike Brown might hang on for a month or two just because of that dynamic. But this president is at a -- potentially a turning point.

The response to the hurricane -- and, of course, we will learn more in the weeks and months ahead, but it went right at the pillar of his strength as a political leader, that he acts decisively at a time of crisis. And it undermined his central argument that he made to the country four yeas ago this week in the wake of September 11, that his mission would to be get the terrorists overseas and to prepare this country in case there was any other type of a disaster of that scale here in this country, so Mr. Bush clearly deciding to act quickly.

And one of the reasons, Wolf, we see it in the polls. His approval rating went down. We have a new poll out today that shows it perhaps ticking up a bit over the weekend, as he began to take command of the hurricane situation. You are witnessing it today, his nominee for Supreme Court, the chief justice of the United States. He has another Supreme Court vacancy to fill.

We have almost forgotten about Social Security and tax reform, the domestic issues he hoped that would be the signature initiatives of his second term. This is a president who knows, if he's weak in the polls, never mind reaching out to moderate Democrats; he won't be able to get Republicans to go along with him heading into a midterm election year, so the administration clearly deciding to act quickly and decisively, out of character, because the Democrats had been goading the president to do this. Well, he's done it today.

All right, John, stand by. We're going to continue to watch this breaking news. Mike Brown, the FEMA director, has resigned.

But, right now, John Warner, the senior senator from Virginia, is still introducing John Roberts to the Senate Judiciary Committee. John Roberts will speak shortly. Let's listen to Senator Warner right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Now, with the beginning of these hearings, the Senate commences the next phase -- the consent phase of this constitutional process -- after the committee consideration and nomination move to the full Senate for debate, followed by a vote.

Throughout this process, the ultimate question will remain the same: whether the Senate should grant or deny consent.

Now to this distinguished jurist.

I judge his credentials to be chief justice in the same manner as I've applied to all others. Since I've been privileged to serve in this institution, I recounted there are about over 2,000 nominations that have come in this quarter of a century plus.

I can say without equivocation I have never seen the credentials of any nominee with stronger qualifications than Judge Roberts.

Some two years ago, when nominated to serve in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, I was privileged at his request to introduce him. At the time, he was relatively unknown; today, the world knows him.

We were brought together because we were both fortunate to have been partners at different times in our careers at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, a venerable firm known for its integrity and rigid adherence to ethics. Among the firm's many salutary credentials, it has been long known for its pro bono work. In fact, I'll share a personal story.

In 1960, I was an assistant U.S. attorney. Been there about four years. A knock came on my door and in walked a very tall, erect man, introducing himself as having just been appointed to represent an indigent defendant charged with first-degree murder.

We had a brief consultation. The trial followed. Midway in the trial the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser defense.

That man was Nelson T. Hartson, senior partner and founder of this firm.

I firmly believe that John Roberts shares in the belief that lawyers have an ethical duty to give back to the community by providing free legal services, particularly to those in need. The hundreds and hundreds of hours he spent working on pro bono cases are a testament to that. He didn't have to do any of it, the bar doesn't require it, but he did it out of the graciousness of his heart and an obligation.

Those who know him best can also attest to the kind of person he is. Throughout his legal career, both in public and private practice, his pro bono work, Roberts has worked with and against hundreds of lawyers. Those attorneys who know him well typically speak with one voice when they tell that you that dignity, humility and a sense of fairness are the hallmarks of this nominee.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I take a moment to remind all present and those listening and following that this exact week 218 years ago our founding fathers finished the final draft of the U.S. Constitution, after a long, hot summer of drafting and debating.

And when Ben Franklin ultimately emerged from Independence Hall upon the conclusion of the convention, a reporter asked him, "Mr. Franklin, what have you wrought?" And he said, "A republic, if you can keep it." And that is ultimately what this advice and consent process is all about.

But while the Constitution sets the course of our nation, it is without question the chief justice of the Supreme Court who must have his hand firmly on the tiler to keep our great ship of state on a course consistent with the Constitution.

I shall follow carefully the deliberations of this committee. I will participate in the floor debate. I look forward to the privilege of voting for this fine, outstanding public servant.

Judge Roberts, I'm the last. You're on your own.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, Senator Warner.

Thank you, Senator Lugar. Thank you, Senator Bayh.

Judge Roberts, if you'd now resume your position at center stage.

Judge Roberts, if you would now stand, please. The protocol calls for your swearing in at this point. We have 23 photographers -- well, five more waiting. We may revise our procedures to swear you in at the start of the proceeding, if you should come back.

If you would raise your right hand, and they've asked me to do this slowly, because this is their one photo op.

Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give before this Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

JUDGE JOHN G. ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: I do.

SPECTER: Thank you. And you may be seated.

Now, Judge Roberts, we compliment you on your patience of listening to 21 speeches. And the floor is now yours.

ROBERTS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Senator Leahy, and members of the committee.

Let me begin by thank Senators Lugar and Warner and Bayh for their warm and generous introductions. And let me reiterate my thanks to the president for nominating me.

ROBERTS: I'm humbled by his confidence and, if confirmed, I will do everything I can to be worthy of the high trust he has placed in me.

Let me also thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of the committee for the many courtesies you've extended to me and my family over the past eight weeks.

I'm particularly grateful that members have been so accommodating in meeting with me personally. I have found those meetings very useful in better understanding the concerns of the committee as the committee undertakes its constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.

I know that I would not be here today were it not for the sacrifices and help over the years of my family, who you met earlier today, friends, mentors, teachers and colleagues -- many of whom are here today.

Last week one of those mentors and friends, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, was laid to rest. I talked last week with the nurses who helped care for him over the past year, and I was glad to hear from them that he was not a particularly good patient.

He chafed at the limitations they tried to impose.

His dedication to duty over the past year was an inspiration to me and, I know, to many others.

I will miss him.

My personal appreciation that I owe a great debt to others reinforces my view that a certain humility should characterize the judicial role.

Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath. And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench.

Mr. Chairman, when I worked in the Department of Justice, in the office of the solicitor general, it was my job to argue cases for the United States before the Supreme court.

I always found it very moving to stand before the justices and say, I speak for my country.

But it was after I left the department and began arguing cases against the United States that I fully appreciated the importance of the Supreme Court and our constitutional system.

Here was the United States, the most powerful entity in the world, aligned against my client. And, yet, all I had to do was convince the court that I was right on the law and the government was wrong and all that power and might would recede in deference to the rule of law.

That is a remarkable thing.

It is what we mean when we say that we are a government of laws and not of men. It is that rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of all Americans. It is the envy of the world. Because without the rule of law, any rights are meaningless.

President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet constitution, and he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people. But those rights were empty promises, because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights. We do, because of the wisdom of our founders and the sacrifices of our heroes over the generations to make their vision a reality.

Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform.

Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes. I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

Senators Lugar and Bayh talked of my boyhood back home in Indiana. I think all of us retain, from the days of our youth, certain enduring images. For me those images are of the endless fields of Indiana, stretching to the horizon, punctuated only by an isolated silo or a barn. And as I grew older, those endless fields came to represent for me the limitless possibilities of our great land.

Growing up, I never imagined that I would be here, in this historic room, nominated to be the chief justice. But now that I am here, I recall those endless fields with their promise of infinite possibilities, and that memory inspires in me a very profound commitment.

If I am confirmed, I will be vigilant to protect the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court, and 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.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, members of the committee.

I look forward to your questions.

SPECTER: Thank you very much, Judge Roberts, for that very profound statement.

We will stand in recess until 9:30 tomorrow morning, when we will reconvene in the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216.

That concludes our hearing.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

CNN U.S.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
Search
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines