Committee sends Roberts nomination to full Senate

Posted in United States | 23-Sep-05 | Author: Kathy Kiely and Joan Biskupic| Source: USA Today

Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts meets with Sen. Robert Byrd in his offices in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON — As the Senate Judiciary Committee sent John Roberts toward confirmation Thursday with a bipartisan vote of support, jockeying already was underway over President Bush's next Supreme Court appointment.

The committee voted 13-5 to recommend Roberts' confirmation as chief justice. Three Democrats joined all 10 committee Republicans to support Roberts. Now 50, Roberts could lead the court for decades. (Audio: Nomination sent to full Senate)

"I will vote my hopes today and not my fears," said Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, one of Roberts' Democratic supporters. Others were less guarded, praising Roberts' mastery of constitutional issues and affable personality. (Video: Committee confirms Roberts)

"He's the best I have seen, and that's saying a lot," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who has voted on eight of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices.

The committee vote and senators' remarks indicated that the appeals court judge tapped by Bush to succeed William Rehnquist will be confirmed by the full Senate next week. Republicans appear unanimous in their support; Democrats are divided.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York announced she would oppose Roberts, as did another of the party's potential 2008 presidential candidates, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., another White House hopeful, backs Roberts. Centrist Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he will vote yes.

The nominee failed to get the support of the lone woman on the committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, the only African-American senator, said he will vote against Roberts next week. That could heighten pressure on Bush to appoint a woman or a minority to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the high court's first woman member and a swing vote.

The president got strong and conflicting signals from Judiciary Committee members over whom he should appoint to replace O'Connor.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, made an impassioned speech about the need to end abortions and said he hopes Bush "will keep his campaign promises" to appoint conservatives. The panel's top-ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, urged Bush to seek consensus.

Behind-the-scenes consultations about the next Supreme Court appointment have begin. Hatch, who met with White House counsel Harriet Miers on Thursday, said he thinks the president will take Democratic concerns into consideration — up to a point.

"I don't think he wants to stick a finger in their eyes," Hatch said. "On the other hand, I don't think he wants them dictating who he picks."

The appointment of Roberts, a conservative who does not appear to hold dramatically different views from Rehnquist, is unlikely to significantly shift the court's direction. But a more conservative successor to centrist O'Connor could potentially alter the law of the land.

O'Connor announced in June that she plans to retire as soon as a successor is confirmed. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he expects Bush to make a nomination as early as next week.

The court is closely divided on numerous controversial issues, including abortion rights. Senators said uncertainty over the court's future direction made tougher their decisions on Roberts, who revealed little of his views .

Feinstein said she decided only on the eve of the committee vote. "I cannot in good conscience cast an aye vote," she said. Memos Roberts wrote as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration expressed "a denigrating view of issues involving women," she said.

Besides Kohl, committee Democrats Leahy and Feingold supported Roberts.