Thursday, July 21, 2005

Senators warmly welcomed Judge John G. Roberts Jr. on Capitol Hill yesterday, and several key members said his nomination to the Supreme Court should not be blocked under the deal struck in May to end judicial filibusters.

“This man has the right stuff and will do the right thing for America and for us as individuals,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and member of the group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans who crafted the pact to end most of the filibusters against President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and also a member of the so-called Gang of 14, agreed with Mr. Warner that Judge Roberts doesn’t meet the “extraordinary circumstances” required to warrant a filibuster.

“Judge Roberts deserves an up-or-down vote,” Mr. McCain said. “And I hope that the other members of that group would also agree with me.”

A survey yesterday by The Washington Times of all 100 senators found that 44 senators — all Republicans — support Judge Roberts’ nomination to the high court — at least for now. Fifteen senators, including nine Democrats, made a point to praise Judge Roberts but stopped short of endorsing his nomination.

“John Roberts has had an impressive legal career,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday. “Both in government and in private practice, he has been a zealous and often successful advocate for his clients. He has argued many cases before the Supreme Court and is respected for his legal skills. By all accounts, he is a very nice man.”

Despite his nearly unquestioned conservative credentials, Judge Roberts has so far avoided the kind of vitriol that has damaged earlier nominees and has come to define judiciary politics in the Senate.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is credited with causing the stampede against President Reagan’s nomination of federal Judge Robert Bork with a stinging speech about “Robert Bork’s America” that conjured up back-alley abortions and segregated lunch counters.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Democrat said in a speech on the Senate floor that he wants to ensure that Judge Roberts “falls within the conservative mainstream of America.”

After he mentioned a case that raised some concerns, Mr. Kennedy said, “I do not prejudge Judge Roberts’s nomination based on his decision in this case or any other. Nor should anyone else. But we must not fail in our duty to the American people to responsibly examine Judge Roberts’ legal views.”

One rare skirmish occurred yesterday after Mr. Kennedy said, “The Senate’s role will be to establish clearly whose side John Roberts would be on if confirmed to the most powerful court in the land.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, specifically rebutted Mr. Kennedy, saying, “Judges are not supposed to be on anybody’s side.”

“Judges are supposed to be the umpires, calling balls and strikes. They’re supposed to be on the side of the law,” he said.

Judge Roberts began the day with breakfast with Mr. Bush, who urged lawmakers to approve his nominee by the time the high court begins its next term Oct. 3.

“He’s somebody Americans will be proud to have seated on that bench,” the president said on a short trip to Baltimore to tout homeland security. “He has the qualities that our country expects in a judge — experience, wisdom, fairness and civility. He has profound respect for the rule of law.”

During the day yesterday, Judge Roberts met with leaders in the Senate. He was greeted on the marble steps of the East Front by Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Mr. Frist called Judge Roberts “the best of the best legal minds in America” and said he looked forward to “a dignified process, a fair process, a process that treats you, our nominee, with respect.”

Later, Judge Roberts also met privately with Mr. Reid and ended his day with a private meeting in the office of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Afterward, Mr. Leahy told reporters that he’d advised Judge Roberts that although he was nominated by a Republican and might be confirmed by a Republican Senate, “the Supreme Court is there for everybody.”

Asked about his thoughts on Judge Roberts’ conservatism, Mr. Leahy said, “I can think of a lot of people who might have raised more alarm bells.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and often a thorn in the side for conservatives, called Judge Roberts “extraordinary” and found little to lament other than some harsh statements made about the nominee by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“I was a little disappointed to note in the morning’s press that NARAL has said Judge Roberts is unsuitable and a divisive nominee with a record looking to disrupt the rule of law,” Mr. Specter said. “I was disturbed to see that. I hope that the rhetoric will be low, to give Judge Roberts a chance to be heard.”

Judge Roberts also picked up a handsome endorsement yesterday from the very Supreme Court justice he hopes to replace.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called Judge Roberts “first-rate.”

“I have watched Judge Roberts since he has been an advocate before our court, and I and my colleagues have been enormously impressed with his scholarship and his skills,” Justice O’Connor told the Associated Press yesterday during the annual conference of the 9th U.S. Circuit in Spokane, Wash. “He’s earned an excellent reputation as a lawyer, so I think he’s very well-qualified.”

Judge Roberts has argued before the high court 39 times, winning 25 of those cases.

“I am disappointed, in a sense, to see the percentage of women on our court drop by 50 percent, but I can’t be disappointed in the quality of person nominated. He’s first-rate,” she added.

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