- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter announced his support yesterday for the nomination of federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. as Supreme Court chief justice.

“After listening to Judge John Roberts testify for nearly 17 hours and then hearing from 31 witnesses — some for and some against his nomination — I have decided to vote to confirm him to be chief justice of the United States,” Mr. Specter said in a speech yesterday on the Senate floor.

Although Mr. Specter is the panel’s top Republican, his support for the conservative jurist was not a foregone conclusion. The Pennsylvanian often bucks his party and famously opposed the 1987 nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, leading to its eventual demise.

The committee will vote on Judge Roberts’ nomination Thursday. Republicans say they expect the vote to follow party lines, although several Democrats maintain that they are still considering the nomination.

Some Democrats such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York have aired serious doubts about the nominee and are widely expected to vote against Judge Roberts in committee. Both men voted against Judge Roberts in committee when he was confirmed two years ago to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Most closely watched now are Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. All voted in favor of Judge Roberts in 2003 and say they have not decided how they will vote this time.

The Senate Democratic caucus will meet privately today to discuss the nomination, but Judge Roberts’ confirmation is virtually assured. Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said last week that the nomination will win 75 to 80 votes on the Senate floor, killing any chance for a filibuster.

In addition to Mr. Specter yesterday, Judge Roberts has picked up another supporter among liberal Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the “Gang of 14” senators who could decide whether a judicial nomination will be filibustered.

“My personal discussions with Judge Roberts, as well as his responses during the Judiciary Committee hearings, have convinced me that he respects precedents and will apply the law and Constitution fairly,” Miss Collins said.

Much of the concern among Democrats has been over Judge Roberts’ view of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established abortion as a constitutional right.

Mr. Specter, who is pro-choice, said yesterday that although Judge Roberts stated support for a “right to privacy” — the basis for the Roe decision — he was careful to avoid stating how he would rule if given an opportunity to overturn Roe.

“Notwithstanding his answers and my efforts to glean some hint or realistic expectation from his words and body language, candidly it is not possible to predict or have a solid expectation of what Judge Roberts would do,” Mr. Specter said. “If there is a rule on expectations, it is probably one of surprise.”

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