Conservatives Herald Republican Judge as Qualified Candidate

When the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination of federal judge and Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. next month, among the stacks of papers on members' desks will be a curious letter from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Addressed to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee's chairman, and dated Aug. 22, the letter from the Conservative movement's Public Policy Committee declares Roberts to be "qualified to serve."

Roberts has faced criticism for past positions seen by many as anti-environmentalist and anti-abortion. Despite the scrutiny, however, the Senate will likely sign off on his nomination.

The Conservative branch of Judaism has never officially endorsed a Supreme Court nominee – let alone one in such a contentious political environment – but according to Director of Public Policy Mark Waldman, the time was ripe for Conservative Judaism to "add a voice to the debate."

A 'Balanced Respect'
Waldman explained that the movement embarked on a process about nine months ago to solidify the qualities it looked for in a potential justice. It released those criteria in June, one month before President George W. Bush picked Roberts to sit on the nation's highest court.

Likening the "nonpartisan" process to what the American Bar Association does in its rating of federal judiciary picks, Waldman said that Roberts satisfied the Conservative movement's three requirements: He is well-trained; he "eschews an ideologically defined approached to judicial interpretation"; and he demonstrates a "balanced respect for foundational documents."

Alexis Rice, spokeswoman for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that her organization would never think of supporting a nominee.

"In the last 15 years, the only solid positions we've taken were to oppose [Supreme Court Justice Clarence] Thomas and [Supreme Court nominee Robert] Bork," according to Rice.

(She could not conclude whether or not the Reform movement had ever supported a judicial candidate prior to 15 years ago – such as with popular Jewish Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis – but that she was "checking into it.")

"We'll continue to raise questions on Roberts," added Rice, noting that the organization supported Roberts when he became a federal judge in Bush's first term.

And over at Agudath Israel of America, a group representing Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Avi Shafran said that his organization had not reached a decision on Roberts, but did not rule one out.

"Although we haven't issued an endorsement of Justice Roberts," said Shafran, "it is being discussed and may yet happen."



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