As we talked about earlier, John Roberts refused to give clear answers to many questions during the confirmation hearing about where he stands on important issues. On several occasions during the hearing, when asked about past Supreme Court decisions, he said he has “no quarrel” with them. We noted that this language was nearly identical to the language Clarence Thomas had used during his confirmation hearings. Thomas, when pressed by Senator DeConcini as to whether “no quarrel” meant that he actually agreed with a Court decision, admitted he did not mean “I adopt it as mine.”
We concluded that Roberts also meant he did not agree with a Court decision when he said he had “no quarrel” with it. This conclusion has now been bolstered by written responses Roberts gave to Senators’ written questions following his hearing. Senator Schumer directly asked Roberts what he meant when he said “no quarrel,” and the response was less than satisfying.
Senator Schumer: Over the course of your hearing, you said on multiple occasions that you have “no quarrel” with particular holdings of the Supreme Court. In Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearings, he similarly used the term “no quarrel” to describe his perspective on a number of holdings of the Supreme Court. Senator DeConcini asked him, at one point, whether having “no quarrel” meant that he agreed with the Court’s holding; he simply said “I mean do not disagree with it”. Justice Thomas later voted to overrule several of those rulings with which he had “no quarrel.”
Please explain more precisely what you mean by “no quarrel.” Does it mean that you agree with the holding?
Roberts: What I meant during my oral testimony when I stated that I have “no quarrel” with a particular decision of the Supreme Court is that I would treat that decision as precedent, like any other opinion of the Court, consistent with principles of stare decisis.
In other words, Roberts did not mean that he agreed with those decisions or would uphold them; he was just acknowledging the obvious fact that they are court precedents. However, a Supreme Court Justice can vote to overturn court precedents.
In another written question to Roberts, Senator Schumer noted five Supreme Court decisions with which Roberts said he had “no quarrel,” and asked whether he also had “no quarrel” with Roe v. Wade. Roberts refused to answer.
Senator Schumer: Do you similarly have no quarrel with the holding of Roe v. Wade? What about the reasoning in that case?
Roberts: As I noted before the Committee, issues related to abortion continue to come before the Court, including at least two cases scheduled for the upcoming Term. I do not think I can express a view on the holding, or reasoning, of Roe v. Wade, without crossing the line that I have drawn and maintained before the Committee, of not commenting on issues that are likely to come before the Court, as have all the sitting Justices.
So, even though we now have confirmation from John Roberts that “no quarrel” means nothing more than he’ll accord a decision the same deference as any other precedent, he still refused to say even that about Roe.
Time will tell whether Judge Roberts will follow in the footsteps of Justice Thomas, and do more than “quarrel” with fundamental rights we have come to rely on.