Thursday, September 22, 2005

Senate Judiciary approves Roberts

The first step is taken...

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)-[off the wire, no link]-The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday voted 13-5 to send U.S. Chief Justice nominee John Roberts Jr. to the full Senate for a final vote.

The expected approval came with support from three Democratic committee members - Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. The remaining Democrats said their opposition was ground in concern about how Roberts might rule on individual and civil rights matters that come before the Supreme Court. Democrats also cited Roberts' unwillingness to answer questions they posed to him on numerous legal issues during confirmation hearings.

With the committee vote, Roberts is one step closer to becoming the 17th chief justice of the United States. Roberts will get the chance to oversee a generational change at the nation's highest court. At the age of 50, he could oversee the court for several decades.

"When he is confirmed, this will be the Roberts court, and we know the Supreme Court will change dramatically," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who voted against Roberts. "Many of our core rights and core freedoms hang on the balance of one vote."

The full Senate will debate Roberts next week, with a vote by Sept. 29. Roberts is likely to be sworn in by the time the court convenes on Oct. 3 for its new term.

The Supreme Court, after 11 years of stability, is undergoing significant change with two openings at once. Roberts is slated to replace William Rehnquist, who died over Labor Day weekend at 80 after 19 years as chief justice. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 75, said she will retire when her successor - not yet named by President Bush - is confirmed. Additional change is likely. The court's oldest member, Justice John Paul Stevens, is 85, and all but one of the remaining justices currently sitting are over 65.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he hopes Roberts can bring more consensus to the high court, known in recent years for numerous 5-4 decisions on contentious social issues. "One of the factors which I like about the prospect of a chief justiceship for Judge Roberts is his potential to bring the court together," Specter said.

Democrats voting against Roberts, however, said they are worried what role Roberts might have in upholding legal precedent on individual and civil rights such as the right to an abortion. "I must regretfully vote no as I have in the past when I have doubts about the nominee on these fundamental rights," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said.

The only woman on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she also would oppose Roberts because "he did not cross my bar" in calming her concerns about the future of legal precedent on women's issues that she considers important.

Republicans were critical of senators who have decided to vote against him. "I don't see how anyone can justify a vote against Judge Roberts unless they nitpick," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., urged Democrats to look ahead to the day when a Democratic president again gets to pick a Supreme Court nominee. "Liberals and conservatives come and go, but the rule of law is bigger than all our philosophies," Graham said.

The Democratic split on Roberts also will play out next week when the full Senate debates his nomination. The decision of Leahy, the panel's top Democrat, to support Roberts contrasts against the decision of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said he will oppose him.

Roberts is strongly backed by Senate Republicans, who control 55 votes in the 100-member body, and will receive several additional votes from Democrats. It isn't yet clear, however, how much support Democrats will provide.

President Bush still has to name a second nominee to replace the retiring O'Connor. That nomination isn't expected until the Senate confirms Roberts. Bush met with several lawmakers at the White House Wednesday, but didn't indicate who he is considering for the job. Senators did make several suggestions for nominees during the meeting.

Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.(AP-DJ)--09-22-05 1257EDT

Most think it won't be a big battle in the Senate, and that the Democrats are saving there ammo for O'Connor's replacement. Listening to soundbites from the hearings courtesy of Hugh, I have to agree most (*cough* Leahy *cough*) seem to be posturing themselves to say, hey we approved the last guy but we feel this one's just way out of the mainstream (as if they've ever even seen the mainstream).