Washington, September 2, 2005 – As the culmination of its month-long “Ask Judge Roberts” Campaign (www.AskJudgeRoberts.com), today, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) sent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee a sampling of questions from throughout the United States for Judge Roberts to answer during the Senate hearings. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, observed, “This campaign has been an important opportunity for Americans to participate in the process of selecting the new Supreme Court Justice. That justice will be charged with upholding the rights and liberties we hold dear.” The questions submitted to the Judiciary Committee members represent the diversity of concerns of the Reform Jewish Movement and others, including separation of church and state, reproductive rights, civil rights, and environmental protection. A copy of the letter follows:
Dear Senators Specter and Leahy,
Next Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee will begin its critical work of determining whether Judge John Roberts is the right person to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Like countless Americans, Reform Jews view this critical process as a cornerstone of our democracy. So many of the issues of paramount concern to the Reform Jewish Movement hinge on Court decisions pertaining to church/state issues, privacy and reproductive rights, civil rights, and the environment.
While we have not taken a position on Judge Roberts’s nomination, the Reform Jewish Movement believes that any person receiving a lifetime appointment to the highest Court in our nation must go through a comprehensive and exhaustive hearings process. Such a process requires genuine, thorough and tough questioning that sheds light on the nominee’s temperament, constitutional beliefs, and judicial philosophies.
The Union for Reform Judaism represents over 900 congregations encompassing nearly 1.5 million Reform Jews. In order to best gauge our constituents’ concerns, we developed a web-based program, “Ask Judge Roberts,” which allowed people from across the United States to write in with questions they believe it is important for the nominee to answer during the Senate hearings. While many of these came from members of our congregations, a number of them also came from the broader Jewish community and the general American public. We are now forwarding the most compelling of their questions to you. We urge you, and the members of the committee, to pose these questions to Judge Roberts.
The issue that received the most questions was the separation of church and state, closely followed by questions pertaining to reproductive rights. While the questions ranged in theme and style, they all demonstrate the voices of Americans who understand what is at stake in this process.
The following are ten questions illustrative of the diversity of the concerns from the questions we received. [Comments in brackets are drawn either directly from other questions of like concern or represent a synthesis of multiple questions.]:
• “Do you believe that the test first stated in the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision is still viable, such that it should be applied to determine whether a particular government action violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause? If not, what test do you believe should be applied to determine whether a particular government action violates the Establishment Clause?”
-David R. Bohm, Chesterfield, MO
• What is your view on women's rights, specifically regarding abortion? [Do you interpret the Constitution to include any right to privacy? If so, should the States, the Federal Government, or both legislate privacy rights?]”
-Joyce J. Aloisi, Wilmington, DE
• “Do you subscribe to the legal theory that corporations have the same legal rights as individuals? If you do subscribe to this legal theory, [which takes] precedence: the individual or the corporation?”
- Mark R. Edwards, Los Angeles, CA
• “The Civil Rights Movement depended on the federal courts for much of its progress. Many would consider this judicial activism. How do you assess the Supreme Court opinion that, among other things, used the Commerce Clause to strike down state Jim Crow legislation? Was Brown a case of overreaching judicial activism?”
-Anonymous, St. Louis, MO
• “How, if at all, do your personal religious views influence the decisions you make from the bench? [What would you do if you concluded that the U.S. rule of law and the rule of your Church (on a crucial matter to your Church) came to different conclusions on an issue before the court?] To what extent do you believe one's personal religious views should influence one's legal decisions? How does your interpretation of the First Amendment affect your response?”
-Rabbi Leah Doberne-Schor, Westfield, NJ
• Under what circumstances do you believe it is appropriate for the Supreme Court to overrule the decision of a prior Court? In a constitutional case, to what extent do you believe you are bound by prior decisions of the Court? And to what extent do you believe that you are free to make a decision based solely on your understanding of the original intent of the Founders?
-Geoffrey Kent, Chappaqua, NY
• “You have a history of defending business against the limitations imposed by environmental legislation. Given that the world is threatened by global warming, fuel shortages, destruction of marine habitats, and other perils that endanger our health and our food supply, [under what circumstances do you believe the commerce clause or spending clause can legitimize federal environmental legislation? What other Constitutional justifications for Federal environmental legislation might there be?]”
-Kirstin Olsen, Ben Lomond, CA
• “The writers of the Constitution had no awareness of the issues facing our country in regard to gay marriage. At the same time, many gay and lesbian Americans consider themselves disenfranchised from numerous legal rights due to their inability to marry. What are your thoughts on this particular issue?
-Colin Hogan, Metuchen, NJ
• “In 1990, in the Smith case, five members of the Court voted to abandon the compelling interest test for the free exercise of religion. Do you believe that case was rightly decided and why?”
-David Ravel, Milwaukee, WI
• “Your career has included working under both the Reagan and first Bush Administrations. How do you distinguish these experiences as a legal advisor and advocate in the highly-politicized context of the Executive Branch from your role as a judge? How have you made this distinction in your last two years on the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit? Have you decided cases differently than you might have argued them within or on behalf of the Executive Branch?”
-Jane Wishner, Albuquerque, NM
We hope that these questions prove helpful as you and your colleagues embark on this significant process. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or Emily Kane at (202) 387-2800.
Rabbi David Saperstein
cc: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee