CBC questions John Roberts

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on Saturday took their strongest step yet toward opposing the nomination of Judge John Roberts, urging senators to submit the Supreme Court nominee to tough questioning on issues of racial discrimination.

“We are both astonished and troubled by what the papers of Judge John Roberts Jr. … reveal about his views on civil rights matters in virtually all the areas of concern to African Americans,” wrote Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), the CBC’s chairman, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), judicial nominations chairwoman for the caucus, to Senate Judiciary Committee members. “We have deep and expansive concerns about the Roberts nomination.”

Watt and Norton highlighted eight areas of questioning they hoped the panel’s members would pursue, ranging from affirmative action to the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

Only one member of the CBC, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), is a member of the Senate and will thus have the opportunity to vote on the nomination. The rest of the CBC is likely to follow Obama’s lead in determining whether it would oppose the nomination. 

Should the CBC ultimately oppose the Roberts nomination, as is widely expected, it would become one of the most influential minority groups yet to do so, joining liberal advocacy groups such as the NAACP and the Alliance for Justice, which have already voice their opposition to Roberts.

The Saturday letter came shortly after Roberts gave word late last week that he would not be able to meet personally with House members of the CBC, citing concerns that he should meet with senators before granting meetings to House members.

Watt and Norton had written to Roberts on Aug. 25 requesting a meeting. Watt said he was “especially disappointed” by the news that Roberts would not meet with the caucus.

“The Congressional Black Caucus will still make every effort to assess Judge Roberts’s nomination fairly, but we will certainly have to consider his refusal to meet with representatives of our important constituency a substantial mark against him in our evaluation,” Watt said in a statement.

A senior adviser to the CBC said Roberts’s refusal to meet with the caucus “does say something, if we like it or not, about what he views.”

As of yesterday morning, Roberts had not met with Obama.

The CBC has also expressed frustration that some of Roberts’s papers dealing with racial discrimination and similar issues have yet to be released by the White House.

As Roberts’s confirmation hearings got under way yesterday in the Senate, CBC members were hopeful that the eight questions outlined in Saturday’s letter, which were researched and written by Norton, would be raised by senators.