Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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Roberts has both supporters and critics in Minnesota
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Steve Dombrosk signs postcards asking Sen. Coleman and Dayton to oppose Roberts' confirmation. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
President Bush has nominated John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court following the death of William Rehnquist. There hasn't been much debate over Roberts in Minnesota, although some Minnesotans are trying to drum up either support or opposition.

St. Paul, Minn. — The most vocal opposition to John Roberts' nomination has come from NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota. NARAL canvassers have been door-knocking throughout the state, asking Minnesotans to sign postcards urging Sen. Norm Coleman and Mark Dayton to vote against Roberts' confirmation.

As two NARAL canvassers walked through a St. Paul neighborhood last month, they found a few people concerned about Roberts' past writings on abortion. But many people were noncommittal when Missy Goelke asked them to sign postcards for the two senators. Goelke said a lot of people she's talked to while door-knocking don't know much about Roberts.

"Because Roberts' records are so incomplete, a lot of people have different feelings about him," Goelke said. "We definitely tell them that NARAL is stepping up against his nomination and things of that nature, and some people agree with that, some people don't."

NARAL Executive Director Tim Stanley is more blunt. He says Roberts is a right-wing judicial activist who will try to overturn Roe versus Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Stanley has been disappointed by the lack of public attention paid to the Roberts' nomination. But now that Roberts is in line for the court's top position, Stanley thinks Roberts will come under more scrutiny.

"I think what will end up happening is we will see the justice grilled pretty intensely on not necessarily where he stands on the decision of Roe versus Wade, but where he stands on the right to privacy, because he has been quoted as saying, 'the so-called right to privacy' in some of the briefs that he has written as a solicitor general," Stanley said.

But Stanley acknowledged that regardless of NARAL's concerns, Roberts appears likely to be confirmed. Roberts has supporters on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, and his backers say he is eminently qualified. He's an appeals court judge who has argued dozens of Supreme Court cases, and clerked with Justice Rehnquist.

A group of Republicans has been trying to generate support for Roberts in Minnesota. State Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, is an attorney. He's asked lawyers to contact Sen. Coleman and Dayton to urge an up or down vote on Roberts. Johnson says he too is surprised that there hasn't been more public interest in the first Supreme Court nominee in more than a decade.

"This is a really important decision for both Coleman and Dayton to be making. It's one of the most important things the president will do in his term," said Johnson. "And the attorneys that we have spoken with are interested enough to do something, whether it's just send an email or make a phone call."

Johnson said he's very impressed with Roberts and his credentials, and thinks he will be an excellent chief justice.

Coleman has said he's leaning toward supporting Roberts' confirmation. Dayton said he hasn't made up his mind, and he told reporters during a recent conference call that Roberts deserves full and fair consideration from the Senate.

"I'm not going to have any predilection one way or the other, at least until those hearings are completed and I have the benefit of all that information and all of their due diligence," Dayton said.

University of Minnesota law professor David Stras, who clerked with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said that Roberts' confirmation hearings could become more intense, now that he's been nominated for chief justice.

"I think they'll probably push him harder on ideology, they'll ask him a lot more questions about the memos he wrote in the Reagan White House in the early 1980s," Stras said on MPR's Midmorning program. Stras said Roberts will also likely face questions about his experience as an administrator and as a leader, as he seeks the top judicial office in the country. Just 50 years old, Roberts could shape the court for decades to come. His confirmation hearings will begin Monday.