Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. will be confirmed as the 17th chief justice of the United States without a filibuster, the Senate’s top Democrat said yesterday.

“He’s going to be confirmed,” Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters yesterday. “Roberts will get plenty of votes.”

Mr. Reid announced that he will vote against Judge Roberts’ nomination on the Senate floor but said, “The arguments against him do not warrant extraordinary procedural tactics to block the nomination.”

“No one doubts that John Roberts is an excellent lawyer and an affable person,” Mr. Reid said. “But at the end of this process, I have too many unanswered questions about the nominee to justify a vote confirming him to this enormously important lifetime position.”

The senator made the announcements after a lunch meeting with his caucus, during which Democrats discussed their strategy for dealing with the nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination tomorrow. The entire Senate will vote on the nomination later in the month.

Mr. Reid’s remarks about not filibustering Judge Roberts echoed the sentiments of several key Democrats that they don’t know whether they will vote to confirm his nomination to the Supreme Court but that they are certain he won’t be blocked from getting a final vote.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and a key member of the “Gang of 14” senators who can determine whether a filibuster will succeed, said none of the 14 is talking of a filibuster.

“I don’t expect anything extraordinary to come about,” said Mr. Nelson, adding that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll support the Roberts nomination on the floor.

Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat and a Gang of 14 member, said he couldn’t imagine a filibuster being employed against Judge Roberts.

Sen. Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who introduced the nominee at his confirmation hearing but withheld endorsement, said yesterday that he has not made his mind up. He called Judge Roberts “brilliant” and “affable,” but said there are “a lot of unresolved questions.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, also is being closely watched for her vote on the nomination, especially given widespread speculation that she will run for president in 2008. But she gave no signals yesterday as she dashed past reporters to the elevator.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that he told his caucus members to vote their conscience. Although he complimented Judge Roberts for his intellect, Mr. Reid said he couldn’t support the nominee.

“I’m not too sure his heart was as big as his head,” he said.

But that’s not to say that Mr. Reid was in any hurry to have President Bush fill a second opening on the court.

“I just don’t see any rush,” he said, noting the Senate’s busy schedule right now. Mr. Reid and other Senate leaders will meet with Mr. Bush this morning to discuss that vacancy, filling the seat of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Republicans also are privately urging the White House to hold off on nominating a replacement. With the Roberts confirmation virtually sewn up, they worry that Democrats will spend all their Roberts debate time on a second nominee if one is named.

Unlike many Democrats, however, Mr. Reid said he was pleased by how much Mr. Bush consulted with him and others before nominating Judge Roberts.

“I’m sure it could be improved upon, but I don’t think the Roberts consultation process was a total failure,” he told reporters. “I didn’t think it was a failure at all.”

Mr. Reid declined to discuss names of potential nominees, except to say that naming any of the 10 previously filibustered candidates would be a “poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” That could spell trouble for a nomination of Judge Priscilla Owen of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who is often mentioned as an O’Connor replacement.

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