The Democrats’ deepening division over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. has angered many of their party’s political allies on the left, some of whom warn that a vote for the conservative jurist will not soon be forgotten.
No sooner had the nomination sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday — with yes votes from three of the panel’s Democrats — than several of the most influential liberal groups were openly chastising them in a rare public display of intraparty infighting.
“We are disappointed that the Roberts nomination has moved forward and saddened that some Democrats chose to gamble on Roberts, a man who could fundamentally alter our cherished system of rights and protections,” said Ellen Malcolm, president of Emily’s List, which raises money to elect pro-choice candidates.
Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said he was “especially” displeased with the Democratic senators who voted to confirm President Bush’s nominee to be chief justice of the high court.
After one of the three, Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, said he was voting his “hopes today and not my fears,” Mr. Neas angrily fired back: “The appointment of a chief justice for life, someone who will lead the court for the next three or four decades, requires more than a hope and a prayer. We should not be gambling with America’s rights and freedoms.”
In a warning shot across the Democrats’ bow, Mr. Neas was telling reporters last week that any Democratic vote for Judge Roberts “would never be forgotten.”
Liberal activist Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said she, too, was stunned by the three Democratic votes for Judge Roberts, especially by that of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s ranking Democrat and one of Mr. Bush’s fiercest foes on judicial nominations.
“I guess it would be fair to say I was shocked. I was very surprised by Leahy’s vote,” she said.
But as the full Senate prepared to open debate on the nomination this week, Democratic division appeared to widen, with nearly a dozen Democrats saying they would now vote for Judge Roberts. Some said that number is likely to grow before the final roll call is taken.
The three Judiciary Democrats voting for Judge Roberts — Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Mr. Kohl and Mr. Leahy — are among the most liberal members of the Senate.
But most of the Democrats who announced that they would vote to confirm were largely from the more centrist side of their party, including Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana. Other Democratic supporters are Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.