Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, September 23, 2005


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Judiciary Panel Vote Sets Stage for Roberts Confirmation


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


John Roberts’ nomination as chief justice cleared a Senate committee on a bipartisan vote of 13-5 Thursday, with next week’s confirmation so certain that Republicans and Democrats turned to urging President Bush to move carefully in filling a second Supreme Court vacancy.

“I will vote my hopes and not my fears, and I will vote to confirm him,” said Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, one of three Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who supported Roberts’ nomination along with all 10 Republicans on the panel.

“I don’t see how anybody can justify a vote against Judge Roberts, unless they want to nitpick certain areas that you can nitpick on anybody,” said Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Five Democrats — Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Joseph Biden of Delaware, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York — voted against Roberts, questioning his commitment to civil rights and expressing concern that he might overturn the 1973 court ruling that established the right to abortion.

“I promised John Roberts that I would in this process give him a clean slate. I did it but at the end of the process, sadly it was largely an empty slate,” Durbin said before voting. “I will vote no and I pray that John Roberts will prove as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States that he has not only a great legal mind but also an understanding heart.”

The Democratic support for Roberts marked a stinging defeat for the liberal groups that are lobbying energetically against confirmation.

The full Senate is to debate Roberts’ nomination next week, with a final vote on Bush’s pick to replace the late William H. Rehnquist expected on Thursday. That would allow Roberts to take his place on the court before the justices begin their new term on Oct. 3 — a key objective of the administration.

There was scant sparring in the Judiciary Committee as 18 senators took turns reading prepared statements laying out their positions. What passed for suspense had dissipated on Wednesday, when Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the panel’s senior Democrat, announced he would support the nomination.

Feinstein said in her statement that while there was “no question that Judge Roberts is an extraordinary person,” she lacked “a reasonable sense of confidence that he would uphold certain essential legal rights and protections that Americans rely on, and rights that reflect the values and ideals that make our country so great.”

While she didn’t expect the nominee to disclose his views on specific cases, she explained, she was disappointed that Roberts did not display “some ability to find a commitment to broad legal principles that form the basis of our fundamental rights,” including equal protection, the “basic right to privacy,” and a proper understanding of the nature of congressional power and the limits of executive authority.

The senator told her colleagues:

“As a young lawyer in government service, [Roberts] was involved in the most important issues of the day and issues that continue to be critical to this day. He was in positions to advise the most important lawyers in the Executive Branch.

In these positions, he advanced arguments opposing many of these fundamental rights, and, when asked whether he disagreed with any of those positions today ń some even more extreme than his superiors adopted ń he did not disagree with +virtually+ any of them.”

The senator said she was also disappointed in Roberts’ failure to explain “a series of written comments and margin notes that appeared to demonstrate a denigrating view of issues impacting women,” as well as a reference to “illegal amigos.”

With Roberts’ confirmation a certainty, several senators on the committee were looking ahead to Bush’s selection of a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee’s chairman, told reporters he thought the president might name a successor shortly after Roberts’ confirmation. “He might wait until the following Monday, but seeing how President Bush operates, I think it will be sooner rather than later,” he said.

Specter, a supporter of abortion rights, forecast a more contentious debate than Roberts has provoked — and then speculated about the impact on the court if there were a third vacancy next spring.

“I’m very much concerned if next June Justice (John Paul) Stevens retires,” he said. “If you have three appointees to the court you have a potential to have a sharp turn on the court, and that’s a matter of concern.”

Stevens, the oldest justice at 85, has been a reliable member of the majority in 5-4 opinions upholding the 1973 abortion ruling and the constitutionality of affirmative action while limiting the application of the death penalty.

O’Connor often has been a swing vote, a majority maker whose retirement could signal a shift on the court on many contentious issues.

Roberts spent part of his day meeting with individual Democrats who will cast votes next week on the Senate floor.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd said after their meeting he will vote for confirmation. “I have faith in him — party doesn’t make any difference to me,” said the West Virginian, who earlier in his career served as Senate Democratic leader longer than anyone in history.

All 55 Senate Republicans are expected to vote for Roberts.

In all, 11 Democrats have expressed support for his confirmation, 10 are opposed and 23 have yet to make public commitments.


Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company