WHAT DOES JOHN ROBERTS THINK?….As someone who hasn’t followed Supreme Court confirmation hearings all that closely in the past, I’ve been puzzling recently over the proposition that John Roberts doesn’t really have an obligation to answer concrete questions about either his judicial philosophy or his opinions of past decisions. Has it always been like this? (“Always,” of course, being defined the way it usually is these day: since 1980.)

Over at TPMCafe, Jason Spitalnick provides a useful corrective by reviewing the confirmation hearings for Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In particular, he says that Breyer was quite forthcoming to queries from Republican senators:

By way of example, he provided detailed, clear responses to Senator Hatch’s questions on school vouchers and the First Amendment; to Senator Biden about the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment; to Senators Thurmond and Specter about the application of the death penalty; and to Senator Grassley about his understanding of federalism and the separation of powers doctrine. Most of the questions Justice Breyer refused to answer concerned future application of particular legal standards to specific hypothetical situations.

Precedent is crucial in setting the rules ? formal and informal ? for judicial confirmation hearings. That is precisely why it is critical that the public understand what happened during the Breyer and Ginsburg hearings. The nominees drew lines in the sand that preserved their ability to rule impartially in the future, but opened windows into their personal approaches to judging and the law. Without that information, Senators cannot fulfill their constitutional responsibility to the American people.

Nick Stephanopoulos has more on the subject. On a related note, Jane Hamsher got a chance to chat with Oregon senator Ron Wyden at a dinner party a few days ago, and asked him about Roberts and abortion:

Wyden said he’d met with the guy for an hour recently, and that….Democrats were going to have a really hard time opposing Roberts because he’s very likeable and in the hearings he’ll be very winning.

And for all those people who are sitting around deluding themselves that Roberts is going to get on the court and do a Souter, Senator Wyden said, “There is no doubt in my mind that John Roberts will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

There you have it.