Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings by pretending to be open-minded about his judicial philosophy.
“We got into a little jam with Roberts. Roberts didn’t tell us the truth. At least [Justice Samuel A.] Alito told us who he was,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said, comparing former President George W. Bush’s two successful Supreme Court nominees.
“We’re stuck with those two young men,” Mr. Reid said, though he added that Democrats hope to try to balance out the judiciary overall by “having some moderates in the federal court system as time goes on.”
The Senate’s top Democrat also vowed never to use the so-called nuclear option to change the rules to prevent filibusters of judicial nominees. Republicans under then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, were poised to employ the tactic in 2004 but were headed off by a bipartisan deal.
“The nuclear option is only one of the things the Republicans in power at that time did or tried to do to ruin our country,” Mr. Reid said. “There is no way that I would be part of using the nuclear option. I want every Republican to hear that.”
Mr. Reid joined fellow Democrats in voting to filibuster the nomination of Justice Alito, and on final passage voted against confirming Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. The chief justice did not face a Democratic filibuster.
Former Sen. Fred Thompson, a Tennessee Republican who shepherded the chief justice’s nomination through the Senate, said Mr. Reid’s charge was off base.
“Senator Reid has compiled quite a catalog of mean and irrational statements about various people,” Mr. Thompson said.
“The chief justice was very forthright in explaining that he would not tell the senators how he was going to vote but that he would follow the law and the intent of the framers. He’s done exactly that, and that, of course, is anathema to Harry Reid.”
Liberal critics have said the chief justice’s claim of being open on issues of law during his confirmation hearings have been proven wrong by his penchant for siding with conservatives on high court decisions.
President Obama has already moved to try to temper the heat surrounding judicial nominations by making sure he had the support of both Indiana senators - one Democrat and one Republican - before nominating someone from their state to a federal appeals court.
Fielding questions from reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Reid said he hopes that the major bills the Senate has worked on so far this year have shown there’s a benefit to Republicans helping out.
“When we do things, there’s credit to go around all the way,” he said.
He also dismissed reports of divisions among Democrats on the major issues in the budget, saying flatly: “There’s no split.” He said that would be proved next week when they vote on the budget.
Mr. Reid was coy when asked whether he would try to push for major health care changes under the budget reconciliation process, which would mean it couldmove to a vote without having to face a Republican filibuster in the Senate.