- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will support federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be Supreme Court chief justice, he announced yesterday.

The committee is expected to approve the nomination this morning with support from all Republicans, Mr. Leahy and perhaps other Democrats. With bipartisan support on the committee and Democrats’ promise this week not to filibuster the nomination, Judge Roberts is virtually guaranteed to be sworn in as chief justice by the time the Supreme Court convenes Oct. 3.

“Judge Roberts is a man of integrity,” Mr. Leahy said. “I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda.”

The senator from Vermont was the first Democrat to officially endorse the nomination on the floor, but other Democrats have announced their support to reporters. Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Tim Johnson of South Dakota have said they will vote for Judge Roberts. Other red state Democrats have indicated that they plan to support him but say they haven’t made a final decision.

Across the aisle, the most closely watched liberal Republicans, including Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they plan to support the nomination.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine said in a statement yesterday that Judge Roberts “recognizes the vital role of legal precedent and the constitutional right of privacy, and I believe he will respect his obligation to faithfully interpret the Constitution,” she said in a statement yesterday. “While no one can conclusively predict how any nominee will rule on a particular case, I have concluded that Judge Roberts will bring an open mind and a respect for the established confines of the law, precedent and settled law to individual cases.”

Despite his endorsement, Mr. Leahy said he would like Judge Roberts to have answered more questions from the Judiciary Committee.

The endorsement troubled liberal interest groups that historically have wielded tremendous power over the nomination process.

“Senator Leahy eloquently made all the arguments against the confirmation of Judge Roberts, and then made a decision that contradicted his own compelling reasoning,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. “His decision was inexplicable and deeply disappointing.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada earlier this week led a few Democrats in opposition to Judge Roberts.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, announced his opposition yesterday. Moments later, Sen. John Kerry, Mr. Kennedy’s junior seatmate, rushed to the Senate floor to follow suit.

The White House, meanwhile, has begun consulting with the Senate to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Senate leaders were invited yesterday morning to meet with President Bush.

“The next one’s the one everybody worries about,” Mr. Leahy said. “And again, I urge, as I have before, I urge the president to be a uniter and not a divider.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he told the president the nomination should be delayed to see how Judge Roberts performs as chief justice. Justice O’Connor, he said, would be willing to serve until June.

“The president was noncommittal,” Mr. Specter said. “The body language was not very positive.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, rejected that idea. He said he urged Mr. Bush to announce his nominee in the next 10 days with a goal of confirmation before the Thanksgiving recess in late November.

Mr. Reid said the senators suggested about a dozen candidates to replace Justice O’Connor, including women and Hispanics.

Said Mr. Leahy: “I wouldn’t mind African-Americans.”

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