Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The “Gang of 14” senators who brokered the end to judicial filibusters has so far stuck together in unanimously supporting the nomination of federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the next Supreme Court chief justice.

That stamp of approval, Republican leaders say, paves the way for a smoother confirmation of the next Supreme Court nominee.

“The process has been handled very well,” Majority Whip Mitch McConnell told reporters yesterday. “The outcome will be largely bipartisan. I think that’s very good for the Senate, because in many ways the Senate itself was on trial here.”

Specifically, Republican leaders say, the comfortable approval of Judge Roberts means the next nominee should be confirmed without answering specific questions on personal opinions about abortion and other hot-button political issues. Republicans call it the “Ginsburg precedent” for sitting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose support for abortion rights was very clear but who — like Judge Roberts — repeatedly declined to answer specific questions during her confirmation hearing.

“This confirmation vote obviously underscores that the Ginsburg standard … in answering questions is being restored as the appropriate way to question Supreme Court nominees,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said. “And I hope the Ginsburg standard, and not a double standard, will be applied to the next nominee who may be forthcoming.”

A final Senate confirmation vote for Judge Roberts is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. tomorrow. Congressional Republicans say they expect Mr. Bush to announce the next court nominee Friday.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and member of the “Gang of 14,” announced he would vote for Judge Roberts and lamented the “excessively partisan” atmosphere in which the nomination fight plays out.

“That makes it even more important, I think, that we stretch to decide it correctly and without partisan calculations, whichever side we come down on,” he said. “Our decision on whether or not to confirm him should be a decision made above partisanship.”

Mr. Lieberman noted that seven of the eight current justices were confirmed by overwhelmingly bipartisan votes, ticking off the near-unanimous Senate votes.

“So, it wasn’t always as it is now, and it is now hard to imagine a nominee who would receive so much bipartisan support,” he said. “That’s wrong, and it is regrettable.”

With Mr. Lieberman’s support, that leaves only Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, as the only member of the “Gang of 14” who hasn’t announced his support for Judge Roberts.

Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut also announced their support for Judge Roberts. While most Democrats favoring Judge Roberts hail from red states that went for President Bush in last year’s election, Mr. Levin and Mr. Dodd joined a small group of blue-staters backing the nominee.

Earlier this week, Mr. Bush suggested he might pick a woman or a minority to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Yesterday, the White House said it was nearing the end of its selection process.

“I think we were essentially wrapping that process up as early as today,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.

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