Senate Committee Approves Roberts Nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee votes 13-5 to recommend John Roberts as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The nomination now faces a vote of the full Senate. The five committee Democrats who voted against Roberts said they were not confident he would protect individual rights.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Out of committee and on to the full Senate. The nomination of John Roberts to be chief justice of the United States moved forward today. The Judiciary Committee voted 13-to-5 in favor of Judge Roberts. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was there.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Senate Judiciary Committee): The clerk will call the roll.

Unidentified Clerk: Mr. ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Senator: Aye.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

In the end, three Democrats joined all 10 Republicans to vote yes on the Roberts nomination. Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy said simply that he would take the nominee at his word that he had no agenda. But Dianne Feinstein, often one of the few Democrats to vote for controversial GOP nominees, this time refused to go along. Her standard, she said, was to make sure that a Supreme Court nominee would not take away hard-won rights from individual citizens--for example, in the area of privacy and gender discrimination.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I'm the only woman on this committee, and when I started I said that was going to be my bar, and he didn't cross my bar.

TOTENBERG: Senator Edward Kennedy called `disingenuous' Roberts' claim that as chief justice he would be a neutral umpire calling the balls and strikes as he sees them. Kennedy observed, however, that an instant replay often shows a different picture.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Umpires follow the rules of the game. But in critical cases, it may well depend on where they are standing when they make the call.

TOTENBERG: Senator Charles Schumer said that Roberts' testimony was upon review less than met the ear. The nominee is brilliant, said Schumer...

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): ...but he did not make the case strongly enough to bet the whole house.

TOTENBERG: It was a sentiment echoed by other Democrats. Those who voted for Roberts said they were voting their hopes and not their fears. But they sent a clear warning as they did so. Senator Herb Kohl said Roberts' nomination would not tip the balance of the courts, since Roberts is replacing the conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist.

Senator HERB KOHL (Democrat, Wisconsin): If he had been nominated as he was originally to replace Justice O'Connor, then his confirmation would have moved the court to the right, and that would have made a much more difficult decision for me. It is my hope that the White House recognizes this concern when they choose the next nominee.

TOTENBERG: Another warning came from Senator Russell Feingold.

Senator RUSSELL FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): Future nominees who refuse to answer reasonable questions or whose documents the administration--any administration--refuses to provide should not count on my approval.

TOTENBERG: Republican Senator Charles Grassley, noting Republicans had voted 96-to-3 to confirm President Clinton's nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, suggested that Democrats were not similarly fair-minded about the Roberts nomination.

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): They seem to have more loyalty to their ideological and single-interest groups than we do to ours.

TOTENBERG: That brought this response from ranking Democrat Leahy.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): That was a case where President Clinton consulted with the Republicans who were in the minority at the time, consulted with the Republicans ahead of time, had her name recommended by the Republicans, had basically precleared her with the Republicans and brought her up there. So let's just keep the history straight.

TOTENBERG: Republican Lindsey Graham, looking at his Democratic colleagues across the table, agreed that voting for Roberts was the easiest vote imaginable for Republicans. But, he added...

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): The rule of law is bigger than all of our philosophies, and there needs to be one place left in American discourse and politics for the quietness of the merits of individuals to trump the loudness of special interest groups. And the last place I know of is the courtroom.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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