Senate Committee to Vote on Roberts

The Senate Judiciary Committee votes Thursday on the nomination of Judge John Roberts as chief justice of the United States. Though some Democrats on the committee have said they plan to vote against Roberts, his confirmation is expected.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee votes today on the nomination of John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States. Some members complained of feeling shortchanged by Roberts' answers during confirmation hearings, but it appears all but certain that Roberts will be confirmed as the new head of the Supreme Court both in committee and eventually by the full Senate. We have more this morning from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Any lingering doubts about whether Roberts' nomination might stall in the Senate were cleared up Tuesday. That's when minority leader Harry Reid announced that while he'll oppose Roberts, he will not back any parliamentary tactics such as a filibuster to block a confirmation vote on the Senate floor. And Roberts is assured of at least one Democrat's support when the Judiciary Committee votes today. Yesterday on the Senate floor, ranking committee Democrat Patrick Leahy declared he'll be backing Roberts.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Is a no vote the easier and more popular one? Of course. For me, it is especially with my constituency, but in my judgment, in my experience but especially in my conscious, I find it is better in this nomination to vote yes than no.

WELNA: Leahy expressed frustration with Roberts' refusal to lay out his own views on an array of issues, but on the key question of a woman's right to abortion, the panel's top Democrat said he was satisfied.

Sen. LEAHY: He left me with the understanding he would not seek to overrule or undercut the right of a woman to choose, and I trust that he's a person of honor and integrity and he'll act accordingly.

WELNA: Others are not so persuaded. Even as he declared his support for Roberts, the Judiciary Committee's Republican Chair, Arlen Specter, who backs abortion rights, expressed doubts on the issue.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): The questions remains as to how he will rule, that nobody knows that for certain.

WELNA: The one Democrat who's certain to vote against Roberts today is Massachusetts' Edward Kennedy.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): There is a clear and convincing evidence that Judge Roberts' view of the rule of law would be narrow on the protection of basic voting rights. The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast large doubts on his view of the validity of laws that remove barriers to equal opportunity for women, minorities and the disabled.

WELNA: Roberts' nomination has clearly split Senate Democrats. Others who are not on the committee also declared their voting intentions yesterday, some for, some against the nominee. Since Roberts is to replace William Rehnquist, a reliable conservative, as chief justice, some Democrats feel Roberts' conservative background won't alter the balance of the court. Following the meeting with President Bush at the White House yesterday to discuss a replacement for swing voter Sandra Day O'Connor, Judiciary Chair Specter had this warning.

Sen. SPECTER: I believe the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious than the Roberts nomination, and I say that because bubbling just below the surface was a lot of frustration in the hearing in which we just concluded.

WELNA: Specter said he urged the president to hold off on naming a successor to O'Connor until the court finishes its term next June.

Sen. SPECTER: And by next June, we'll know a lot about Chief Justice Roberts than we do today.

WELNA: But Majority Leader Bill Frist quickly shot down the idea of delaying a replacement for O'Connor.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): She is ready to retire and I've not talked to her over the last couple of days to see if that has changed, but encouraged the president to submit the name in a timely way and hopefully within the next 10 days or so.

WELNA: Frist said by his body language, the president seemed to concur. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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