Judiciary Committee approves Roberts
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the next chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Three of the panel's Democrats crossed party lines to support Judge Roberts in the 13-5 vote. Their support -- along with announcements made by other Democrats this week -- brings Judge Roberts' support to a filibuster-proof 63 votes. The full Senate is expected to confirm him late next week.
Republicans applauded yesterday's vote and declared that it paved the way for President Bush to name a second nominee every bit as conservative as they consider Judge Roberts.
Judge Roberts' refusal to answer specific questions about abortion rights, they said, means the next nominee shouldn't answer such questions either.
Democrats warned, however, that Mr. Bush should tread cautiously and name someone more in tune with retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who sides with court liberals on some issues, including abortion.
Committee support yesterday came from all 10 Republicans and three of the panel's eight Democrats: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, and Sens. Herb Kohl and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.
All three said they had reservations about Judge Roberts but decided that his qualifications were undeniable.
"Judge Roberts came before this committee as a very well-respected judge with a sterling academic record and a remarkable legal career," Mr. Kohl said. "He leaves this committee with that reputation intact, if not enhanced."
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who voted two years ago to confirm Judge Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, reversed themselves yesterday, voting against his Supreme Court appointment.
Liberal interest groups yesterday reacted swiftly and harshly against the committee's Democrats who voted for Judge Roberts.
The National Organization for Women said it was "extremely disappointed in those senators who profess to champion reproductive rights and civil rights yet voted for Roberts in the committee."
The three Democrats who voted for Judge Roberts "turned their backs on women and girls by endorsing the slick attorney who refused to give clear answers to key questions," NOW said. "Women will judge this vote harshly as we suffer its consequences in the years and decades to come."
Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said Democrats who voted in favor of the nomination showed weakness to an administration that he said exploits weakness.
"They respond to strength," he said. "They don't respond to weakness."
With Judge Roberts' confirmation virtually assured, many on Capitol Hill turned their attention to the court's next vacancy. Mr. Kohl said that by replacing the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist -- a conservative jurist -- Judge Roberts "will not radically shift the balance of the court."
"If he had been nominated, as he was originally, to replace Justice O'Connor, then his confirmation would have moved the court to the right, and that would have made a much more difficult decision for me," Mr. Kohl said. "It is my hope that the White House recognizes this concern when they choose the next nominee."
Mr. Feingold said yesterday that he would be far less likely to vote in favor of federal appeals court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, an outspoken conservative who was filibustered by Democrats for two years, if she were nominated to replace Justice O'Connor.
Outside the committee, Judge Roberts picked up two more Democrats yesterday when Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they will support the nomination.
Judge Roberts won't, however, get the support of another closely watched Democrat. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced yesterday that she will oppose his nomination.