« Feeding restored | Ragged Edge Home | The ECBloggerArchives Home | Right -- but for the wrong reason »

September 14, 2005

The John Roberts Media Circus (aka Confirmation Hearings)

All this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is quizzing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts about his views, and the news is full of what they're finding out. Not that you'll find very much about his views on disability rights. Is this because the Senators aren't asking the questions? Is it because he's not answering? Or is it because the media's not reporting this aspect of the hearings?

It seems to be a little of all three. I've blogged before about how the media hasn't paid much attention to the disability aspects of Roberts's record, and in fact I think that watching this week's process is very telling in this regard. We can watch the hearings on CourtTV, and we can read the transcripts. We can also watch the Justice For All Email Alerts website; they're putting out stuff that's either been reported in the news or is in transcripts. And ADAWatch is sending around emails of relevant material; yesterday they alerted us to this op-ed by Kim Moody of the Disability Rights Center of Maine.

We can also follow the news media, and we'll find out that they always focus on the hot-button issue of abortion -- Roe v. Wade -- almost to the exclusion of anything else. New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse's Monday article is a classic in this regard -- she spells out all the "legal issues of the day" observers might want to pay attention to in the hearings -- and disability isn't one of them. I find this both amazing and very discouraging. About the only story I found about Monday's opening that even mentioned disability was the one by Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau reporters Stephen Henderson and James Kuhnhenn who reported that Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-PA) said he wanted to find out Roberts's views on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specter mentioned it in his opening statement but few news outlets reported it. You may recall that Specter had said this earlier as well.

So what are we learning from the hearings? Roberts is as closed-mouthed on his views about disability issues as he is on any other. Yesterday Sen. Mike Dewine (R-OH) got into questions about the Garrett decision, which has particularly rankled some members of Congress, because in that decision, the Court basically told Congress it hadn't done its job -- that it really didn't have real evidence of discrimination on the part of states against disabled people sufficient enough to warrant passing the kind of law the ADA is (was?) --a law that "abrogated the states' sovereign immunity" (to use some fancy legalese I learned; more about that here.) As you may recall, Congress had conducted a bunch of hearings before they passed the ADA; so telling them they didn't do their job -- which is essentially what the Supremes said -- sorta jerked their chain. At least it did for the members of Congress who were really into passing the ADA. This still rankles, and they really want to know if Roberts is likely to go along with pulling another stunt like that when he's on the Court.

As far as I can tell from my admittedly cursory reading of the transcript (this section kindly clipped out and provided by JFA), Roberts was as mealymouthed as ever. I frankly can't get a clue as to what Roberts thinks about this issue -- or if he thinks anything -- from reading this. But if this interests you, and especially if you know about all these cases he refers to, you should definitely read it.

In fact, if any of you legal minds out there would like to slog through the transcripts and pick out stuff that you think shows something or other about disability -- and comment for us about it -- I'd be delighted.

The hearings are revealing in a number of other ways, though. One of those ways concerns Judiciary Committee members' own sometimes startling views on disability. More about that tomorrow.

Posted by mjohnson at September 14, 2005 04:24 PM