The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 5 today to send Judge John Roberts to the whole Senate for a vote on his nomination as chief justice of the United States. It seems close to a certainty that he will be confirmed.
The five Democratic senators voting against Roberts were: Edward Kennedy from Massachusetts, Joseph Biden from Delaware, Dianne Feinstein from California, Charles Schumer from New York and Richard Durbin from Illinois (who, incidentally, was among several senators who spoke briefly with Caroline Fredrickson, the new director of the Washington office, at a reception in the Capitol building last night in her honor).
Democrats voting in favor were the ranking member on the committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senators Herbert Kohl and Russell Feingold, both from Wisconsin. Senator Feingold, however, told the Post: “My voting in favor of Judge Roberts does not endorse his refusal to answer reasonable questions.
Senator Schumer summed up the sense of the dissenting Democrats in the New York Times: “Mr. Schumer said he, too, regretted that he had to vote no. The senator said the nominee had failed to answer the most vital question of all Who is Judge Roberts?’ – and that there was a reasonable danger’ Judge Roberts could become a jurist bent on changing America through the courts, as conservative Republicans have been intent on doing, in Mr. Schumer’s view.
Even with today’s 13 to 5 vote, the Times also had ths news analysis piece on how Democratic activists are not quite as torn.
The ACLU released a statement from Executive Director Anthony Romero expressing “deep concern” with Judge Roberts’s record on civil rights and civil liberties, and calling once again on the White House to release records relating to the nominee’s work as principal deputy solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush.
Senators are now in the difficult position of judging a nominee without all of the evidence. Not only was Roberts less than fully forthcoming in many of his answers to questions from the senators, but also the administration refused to turn over key documents from his time as a political appointee in the solicitor general’s office. Senators should not have to resort to reading tea leaves to understand the record of a nominee for chief justice.
The rest of the coverage basically says the same things as the immediate reporting on the committee vote, except for this story by Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle on whether Roberts’s contacts with the White House while he was considering the Hamdan decision (dealing with the constitutionality of the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay) represent a conflict of interest.
Speculation now turns to who President Bush will pick to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who said she would remain on the court until her successor is appointed.
Elizabeth Bumiller of the Times says the focus now is on diversity. The Post says Senate Democrats intend to give the next nominee a harder look, and that Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the White House to delay the next nomination until next year to “defuse tension.” The White House, reportedly, rejected that suggestion, and intends to announce the choice next week, shortly after the full Senate votes on Judge Roberts’s confirmation.
Here’s the transcript from this morning’s confirmation session.