In the end, it all came down to the issue of abortion for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who yesterday voted against federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.’s nomination to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m the only woman on this committee and when I started, I said that was going to be my bar,” she told colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. “And he didn’t cross my bar.”
Mrs. Feinstein is usually among the first from her caucus to buck party loyalty and vote for a Republican nominee, but yesterday she refused even as three of her more liberal colleagues backed Judge Roberts.
Even before last week’s hearings, Mrs. Feinstein had made no secret that she would likely oppose the Roberts nomination if she determined that he would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that made abortion a constitutional right.
In a speech last month, she said “it would be very difficult for me to vote to confirm someone to the Supreme Court whom I know would overturn Roe v. Wade and return our country to the days of the 1950s.”
“I remember what it was like then when abortion was illegal,” she added. “When I was a college student, I watched the passing of the plate to collect money so young women could go to Tijuana for an abortion. I knew a woman who ended her life because she was pregnant.”
During last week’s hearings, Mrs. Feinstein spent much of her time on the issue of “privacy” — a legal code word for abortion. Time after time, Judge Roberts declined to say how he would vote on such issues, saying it would be improper to give any promises or discuss cases that will come before the court.
But Judge Roberts’ vagueness on abortion questions was not the only thing Mrs. Feinstein didn’t like about the nominee, she said yesterday.
It didn’t help matters, she said, that he declined to bare his soul to her during his confirmation hearings and that his version of social enlightenment is hanging out at his children’s soccer games.
Frustrated by the nominee’s dispassionate answers to her questions about “privacy,” Mrs. Feinstein moved on in hopes of gleaning from him some of his deeper, personal views — an area Judge Roberts repeatedly said is irrelevant because he aims simply to apply the law.
“I asked him about the end-of-life decisions, clearly decisions that are gut-wrenching, difficult and extremely personal,” she said yesterday. “Rather than talking to me as a son, a husband, a father — which I specifically requested he do — he gave a very detached response.”
Still stymied, Mrs. Feinstein said she moved on and “asked him about how he planned to be in touch with the problems real people have out there.”
“Rather than discussing the importance of reaching out to communities that he normally would not be in contact with, and spending time to understand the problems that average people face,” she said, “he mentioned the attendance of soccer games with his family.”
Mrs. Feinstein, who is not a lawyer, then hastened to add: “Now, that’s a slice of life, true, but it’s a very narrow slice of life.”