Senate Confirms Roberts; Evangelicals Look Forward to 'New Era'

WASHINGTON – Evangelicals applauded the confirmation of John Glover Roberts Jr. as the 17th chief justice of the United States Thursday, and said they looked forward to a “new era of judicial restraint” in the nation’s highest court.

“Roberts’ leadership in this direction is something that will be a plus not just for traditional values but also for the country as a whole,” said Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

The Senate voted 78-22 to confirm Roberts, a 50-year-old U.S. Appeals judge from the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Md. The Senate’s entire Republican majority, and about half of its Democrats gave their support to the man who will now lead the Supreme Court as it tackles critical social issues for generations to come.

Roberts is the first new Supreme Court justice since 1994 and the youngest to fill that position in 200 years. Before becoming a federal judge, he was one of the nation’s best appellate lawyers, arguing 39 cases – many times in front of the same eight justices he will now lead – and winning 25 of those cases.

“This person will be highly qualified to serve on the United States Supreme Court,” said Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary. “Today is the day to honor and Celebrate Judge Roberts.”

Under Roberts, the High Court will tackle issues like assisted suicide and abortion this year and will likely face questions about religion, same-sex marriage, human cloning, and the pledge of allegiance in the near future.

"With the confirmation of John Roberts, the Supreme Court will embark upon a new era in its history, the Roberts era," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., according to the Associated Press. "And for many years to come, long after many of us have left public service, the Roberts court will be deliberating on some of the most difficult and fundamental questions of U.S. law."

Key questions surrounding abortion rights were raised on several occasions throughout the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, but Roberts gave little sign of how he would vote on specific cases.

"If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, then the little guy's going to win in the court before me," Roberts told senators. "But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well then the big guy's going to win because my obligation is to the Constitution."

A Catholic and a solid conservative, Roberts also assured lawmakers that his rulings will be guided by the facts of the case, the law and his Constitution, not by his personal beliefs.

“My faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role," said Roberts, whose confirmation brings the number of Catholics on the court to a historic high of four.

At final count, 22 Democrats voted in favor of Roberts’ confirmation, even as they complained about his opinions while serving under the Reagan administration.

"I've taken him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda and he will be his own man as chief justice," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary.

Republicans meanwhile, continued to praise Roberts, and explained that the justices on the court liked him too.

"There have already been indications from members of the court about their liking the fact that Judge Roberts is going to be the new chief justice," said Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who shepherded the nomination out of his committee on a 13-5 vote, according to AP.

Cizik also praised the new chief justice, and said “most evangelicals are more than pleased with John Roberts’ nomination and confirmation, and look forward to a new era of judicial restraint in the Supreme Court.”

Referring to the vacancy left in the High Court by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Cizik said he looks forward to a strict constitutionalist like Roberts to fill the seat.

“We look forward to a second nominee who will affirm the same values and judicial review as those justices who rule on the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress, rather than engaging in lawmaking themselves,” said Cizik.

Bush is expected to announce the new nominee soon. Press secretary McClellan affirmed that the President will “want someone on the Supreme Court that has the qualifications of someone like Judge Roberts to represent the American people well.”

Roberts watched the Senate vote on television from the White House’s Roosevelt Room. He and his wife, Jane, are scheduled to have lunch with President Bush and the first lady Laura Bush, followed by a swearing-in ceremony at the White House. He will be taking his seat in time for the new court session Monday.