WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Carl Levin said yesterday he would vote to confirm John Roberts to the Supreme Court, taking President Bush’s choice for chief justice at his word that he would be open-minded in shaping legal decisions that could affect future generations.

Levin, (D-Detroit.), said his review of Roberts’s writings and Senate testimony led him to believe that the judge’s views had evolved since his days as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration.

“To vote against Judge Roberts, I would need to believe either that he were an ideologue whose ideology distorts his judgment and brings into question his fairness and open-mindedness, or that his policy values were inconsistent with fundamental principles of American law,” Levin said.

“I do not believe either to be case. Judge Roberts has modified some of his views over time, which I take as evidence that he is not an ideologue, and has not only a keen mind but a mind open to argument,” he said.

Levin said he met with Roberts on Monday, asking the judge point-blank whether he talked to Vice President Dick Cheney and top Bush administration officials before his nomination about his views on several constitutional flashpoints, including the powers of the presidency, prayer in public places and affirmative action.

“He looked me square in the eye and said that they didn’t take place,” Levin said. “I must take Judge Roberts at his word.”

Levin said he realized his vote would not likely change the outcome, but it was a decision that could affect the court for three decades.

Roberts is expected to easily win confirmation this week. Levin is the 17th Democrat to support Roberts, joining all 55 Senate Republicans. Judicial nominations require a majority vote of the Senate.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.), who opposes Roberts’s nomination, said many senators were struggling with the decision and reaching different conclusions.

“I think what we see is a conscience vote on all sides and people of good will making their own decisions,” Stabenow said.

Levin’s decision also puts him at odds with some party leaders in his home state.

Mark Brewer, the Michigan Democratic Party chairman, said last week that Roberts’ “evasive testimony – provide no assurance that he will set aside his ideological agenda of the last 30 years and become a chief justice dedicated to protecting the rights of all Americans.”

In prior confirmation votes, Levin has supported Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer – nominated by President Clinton – and Antonin Scalia, who was chosen by President Ronald Reagan. Levin opposed the nominations of William H. Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.

Levin and Stabenow have opposed some of Bush’s judicial nominations in the past, citing the treatment of some of the Clinton nominees by Senate Republicans.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Helene White, who is married to Levin’s cousin, was kept on hold for more than four years, longer than any nominee in Senate history.

Her nomination to the sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was later withdrawn.

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