- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

Democrats yesterday called for a delay in tomorrow’s confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, so the Senate instead can honor Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and address Hurricane Katrina.

“The Senate should not commence a Supreme Court confirmation hearing this Tuesday. A brief postponement will not disadvantage anyone,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, though he did not say how long the delay should be.

The decision rests with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who were consulting with the president and checking on the Rehnquist family’s funeral arrangements. They did not announce any decisions yesterday.

But rank-and-file Republicans said Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death Saturday night should not be used to derail Judge Roberts’ nomination, and they called for swift action on filling the chief justice’s seat.

“There should be no delay. The court’s going to be in session in October and, if at all possible, should have nine justices,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican. “I don’t think Justice Rehnquist would like delays and continuances if we can avoid them, and that’s what [Democrats] are asking for.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Justice Rehnquist’s death won’t complicate proceedings for Judge Roberts.

“He’s a known quantity, and if there was any reason to oppose his nomination, I believe it would have already come to the surface,” he said. “I think the bigger challenges for both sides are going to be with this next vacancy and what the president does with nominating a sitting justice to the chief justice’s slot.”

Although Democrats have praised Judge Roberts’ legal career, they say they have been troubled by some of the memos he wrote during his time in the Reagan administration and have asked for more time to process the thousands of pages released by the archives.

“It makes a good deal of sense for us to take our time, catch our breaths, take a few days out,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Even before Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death, Democrats had suggested delaying the Supreme Court hearings to focus on hurricane relief, but a senior aide to Mr. Frist said the Senate can handle both issues.

“After all, the executive branch hasn’t stopped collecting taxes or fighting the war in Iraq because of Katrina,” the aide said.

Ralph G. Neas, president of the influential liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, said a brief postponement is appropriate, and it “is not an attempt to slow-walk or in any way to try to extend this any significant amount of time.”

He also said senators should not vote on confirming Judge Roberts until they know whom Mr. Bush will nominate to fill Chief Justice Rehnquist’s seat.

“This is a rare time in the history of the court and the history of the country. These couple of appointments will literally decide what kind of constitutional structure we have in this country for decades,” he said.

Mr. Neas’ organization and several civil liberties and minority groups have announced their opposition to Judge Roberts’ nomination. Mr. Neas said having two vacancies will focus more attention on Judge Roberts’ nomination.

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