WASHINGTON (AP) – Supreme Court nominee John Roberts carefully picked his way through a second day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday as Republicans challenged Democrats to support his all-but-certain confirmation as the nation’s 17th chief justice.

“If people can’t vote for you, then I doubt that they can vote for any Republican nominee,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.)

Minority Democrats sounded unswayed.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told Roberts he was “cutting back a little on what you said yesterday,” referring to Roberts’s earlier statement that the Constitution provides a right to privacy.

The New York Democrat made his charge after Roberts declined to cite any examples of disagreement with the opinions of Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas has written there is no general right to privacy, a right often viewed as the underpinning of a right to abortion.

“We are rolling the dice with you,” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) told the 50-year-old appeals court judge, who turned aside questions about abortion, the right to die, the permissibility of torture and other issues he said may come before the court.

Even as Roberts fielded questions, there was fresh evidence of the contentious issues that await him if he is confirmed to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. There were gasps from the audience when word was relayed from the committee dais that a federal judge in California had ruled the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was unconstitutional because it includes the words “under God.” Roberts was not asked for his opinion.

For the second straight day, Roberts fielded questions calmly, summoning descriptions of past cases from memory. He spiced his testimony with a sense of humor, promising at one point that if confirmed, he would not seek a pay raise “next week.”

Republicans projected ever greater confidence that he would soon preside in the grand marble Supreme Court building across the street from the Capitol.

“We need you to bring to the court your compassion and your understanding for the lives of others who haven’t been as successful as you have been,” said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) one of several Republicans who spoke as if giving a send-off message to a man about to embark on a new mission.

GOP officials say they are confident of the support of all 10 Republican members of the committee when the roll is called next week, although it is possible all eight Democrats will oppose him.

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