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U.S. Supreme Court

Roberts picks up Democrats' votes

Associated Press
Published September 22, 2005

WASHINGTON - Chief justice nominee John Roberts, his confirmation secure, picked up support from Senate Democrats on Wednesday as President Bush met with lawmakers to discuss a second vacancy on the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, announced his endorsement shortly after leaving the White House. That guaranteed bipartisan backing for Roberts in today's scheduled vote by the committee.

But Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid and fellow liberals Barbara Boxer of California and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, former presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts and New Jersey Sens. Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg all said they will oppose Roberts. Their stand is evidence of the split among the Senate's 44 Democrats about whether they can or should mount opposition to the successor to the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Because Republicans control the Senate and the committee, majority support was assured for the vote and for confirmation next week in the full Senate.

Liberal groups have pushed Democrats to vote against Roberts, as a signal that stiffer opposition is likely to whomever Bush appoints to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with a conservative.

On Wednesday, Leahy, who has led filibuster fights against Bush's lower court nominees, said in a Senate speech, "I do not intend to lend my support to an effort by this president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to the right."

But Roberts "is a man of integrity," said Leahy, who told Roberts over the telephone about his decision. "I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda."

The other six Judiciary Committee Democrats - Joseph Biden, Herb Kohl, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Russell Feingold and Dianne Feinstein - have not announced their votes.

Leahy's decision was "inexplicable and deeply disappointing," said Ralph Neas, head of People for the American Way.

The stakes become greater with the next nominee, and "the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Judiciary Committee's chairman.

Roberts would replace Rehnquist, a consistently conservative vote on the court. Bush's next nominee will replace O'Connor, a swing vote on affirmative action, abortion, campaign finance, discrimination and death penalty cases.

First lady Laura Bush said Tuesday that she hoped the president would nominate a woman.

During their meeting with the president, senators offered some names to the president, who did not share his opinions.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 01:04:14]

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