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Roberts has one sure, one likely Florida vote

But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says he will vote against confirming John Roberts to the high court.

By BILL ADAIR, Times Washington Bureau Chief
Published September 21, 2005

WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat up for re-election next year, is likely to vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice.

Nelson's office issued a statement Tuesday saying he was "favorably impressed when he met with Judge Roberts several weeks ago and nothing happened during the recent hearing to change his mind."

Nelson won't announce his final decision until the Judiciary Committee votes Thursday. Nelson is not on the committee, but the full Senate is scheduled to begin debate on Roberts' nomination Monday, assuming he passes the committee. Nelson was considered a swing vote on the Roberts nomination. By supporting Roberts, he might anger some Florida Democrats, but it will help him appeal to moderate Republicans and independents in next year's election.

Chuck Todd, editor of the political Web site Hotline, said Nelson needed to support Roberts.

"It would be a political mistake to vote against him," said Todd.

By supporting Roberts, Nelson has more freedom to vote against President Bush's nominee to place Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Todd said. That nominee has not been chosen, but Democrats are concerned President Bush might pick someone more conservative than Roberts.

Republican-leaning groups have been urging Nelson to support Roberts. Progress for America, a political group supporting the nomination, held a conference call with Florida reporters Tuesday to urge Nelson to back the nominee.

Al Cardenas, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party whose law firm was hired to promote Roberts, said during the call that Nelson should "put aside partisan politics and do the right thing."

Although Nelson's statement supported Roberts, the senator also took a shot at Cardenas, saying he "heads a front group to advance a very partisan agenda. His remarks constitute hackery and are a disservice to the public, because they politicize an important judicial decision."

Florida's other senator, Republican Mel Martinez, said Tuesday he will vote for Roberts.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he would oppose the nominee but would not mount a filibuster to prevent his confirmation. "In the fullness of time, he may well prove to be a fine Supreme Court justice," Reid said. "But I have reluctantly concluded that this nominee has not satisfied the high burden that would justify my voting for his confirmation based on the current record."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced he will vote for confirmation, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., edged toward an endorsement, as well. Roberts also commands overwhelming if not unanimous support among the Senate's 55 Republicans.

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