Sept. 12, 2005--The Senate hearing to confirm the nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court began Monday.
The hearings kicked off as Roberts went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose 18 members and Roberts were scheduled to give opening statements. Questions about his judicial record are set to begin Tuesday and are expected to include hot-button issues such as abortion, religion, and Roberts' general philosophy on the Constitution.
It is expected for the committee's nomination process to be finished by the end of the week, when the nomination moves to the full Senate for a vote. The Supreme Court's fall session begins Oct. 3, which has become an unofficial deadline to Roberts' approval.
President Bush nominated John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court in July, but after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Sept. 3, Roberts became a candidate for the Court's top seat. If he is nominated as expected, Roberts would be the first justice with practical experience in business law to be appointed to the high court since Gerald Ford nominated John Paul Stevens in 1975. But despite his corporate credentials, Roberts' impact on small businesses is uncertain.
During his career, first as a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Hogan & Hartson, and most recently as district court judge, Roberts has not always expressed opinions consistent with the views of business lobbyists. He argued on behalf of state attorney generals for the break up of Microsoft, but also helped Toyota win a Supreme Court decision against an employee with carpal tunnel syndrome who wanted to be classified as disabled.
Regardless, Roberts' experience in business law will likely have little impact during Senate confirmation hearings in comparison with social issues like abortion and religion. This has made small business lobby groups like the National Federation of Independent Business hesitant to join the fray. Among small business owners, "there is a diversity of opinion on a lot of these issues," said NFIB spokesman Michael Donohue. "Our members don't expect us to get involved on these issues and we don't."
While it is difficult to say whether Roberts will be a "pro-business" justice, his experience in civil litigation will be ultimately good for business owners, said Michael Greve, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "There are hundreds of business disputes out there and the Supreme Court has not taken them," Greve said. "You can't have a modern business society if you don't have clarity and reliability. He recognizes that, and that is that's how he thinks. That is in the long term interest of business."