WASHINGTON (AP) – John Roberts’s 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’s 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 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.
“The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast doubt on his view of voting rights, women’s rights, civil rights and disability rights,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said of the 50-year-old appeals court judge and former Reagan administration lawyer.
The Democratic support for Roberts marked a stinging defeat for the liberal groups that are lobbying energetically against confirmation, yet one prominent conservative sounded unimpressed.
“We’re supposed to think the Democrats equal being magnanimous? Give me a break,” said Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society. He noted that several Supreme Court nominees of presidents of both parties have gained overwhelming bipartisan support in the past two decades.
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.
With Roberts’s 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’s 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.