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Roberts Vote Heads to Senate

September 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: When the Judiciary Committee convened this morning, there was no doubt it would send the John Roberts nomination to the full Senate with an affirmative vote. Ten of the committee’s eighteen members were Republicans and they were solidly behind him. The only question was how many of the panel’s eight Democrats would vote for him. The majority of Democrats, in fact, complained about the answers Roberts gave during last week’s confirmation hearing. California’s Dianne Feinstein:

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Now, I realized this past week after reading and rereading the transcripts, going over answers to questions, that I knew as little about what Judge Roberts really thought after the hearing as I did before the hearings.

KWAME HOLMAN: New York’s Charles Schumer:

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: That is why I hope whatever happens with Judge Roberts, that the next nominee will be more forthcoming, and will answer more questions about his or her legal views and that all relevant documents will be provided.

KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Republican John Cornyn said judicial nominees are not obligated to answer every question.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: I understand that when Sen. Schumer and others say that they want to know the answers to the questions that were asked, I don’t blame them for wanting to know. I guess every contestant in every sporting event, every lawsuit would like to know ahead of time whether their outcome, whether their desired outcome will prevail.

But I submit that particularly in courts of law, no one — no one is entitled to know ahead of time what the outcome will be because the very premise of our judicial process is that courts are supposed to be fair and listen to both sides, or all sides of an argument. The judges are supposed to be disinterested in the outcome, and impartial, and that judges finally be independent of the political process. So no one is entitled to know what Judge Roberts — how Judge Roberts will rule on these hot-button issues of the day. No one is.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden argued past nominees did give sufficient answers, Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Justin Kennedy stated and I quote, the essentials of the right — the essentials of the right to human dignity, the injury to the person, the harm to the person, the anguish to the person, the inability of a person to manifest his or her personality, the inability of a person to obtain his or her own self-fulfillment, the inability of a person to reach his or her potential.

That is the scope of the right to privacies he saw but in contrast Justice Roberts declined to associate himself with anything approaching the broad sweep of Justice Kennedy’s vision, instead casting his formulation in a very narrow, a very narrow and crabbed way. Not only would Judge Roberts not tell this committee how broadly the right to privacies extend, he declined even to endorse the general right to privacy. I mean he repeatedly said he believed in the right to privacy as does, quote, every member of the court to some extent or another.

KWAME HOLMAN: Having listened to the complaints aimed as Judge Roberts, Republican Lindsey Graham pointed out that Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative, was approved almost unanimously by the Senate.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I would just urge this committee as we go to the next debate to remember that Scalia was obviously conservative. There is no way Roberts is more conservative than Scalia. There is no way that Roberts is more challenging and in your face than Scalia in his writings. Scalia got 98 votes. Now what has happened? Ginsburg got 96 votes; what is going on? I think Sen. Grassley put his finger on it; there is a lot of pressure on us all. This is the easiest vote a Republican will ever make. This is so easy for us to vote for Roberts.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile three Democrats on the committee admitted Roberts’ performance during his confirmation hearings was impressive as is his stellar legal record. Vermont’s Patrick Leahy is the committee’s top Democrat.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: In my judgment, in my experience, but especially in my conscience I find it better to vote yes than no. And ultimately my Vermont roots have always told me to go with my conscience.

KWAME HOLMAN: Leahy went on to say to he would support Roberts, and two other Democrats, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both from Wisconsin announced they would too.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: I have talked to a number of people who know John Roberts or to people who know people who know John Roberts. All of them, all of them, I have heard from directly or indirectly have seen him develop since 1985 into one of the foremost Supreme Court advocates in the nation, whose skills and judgments are respected by lawyers all across the ideological spectrum. They don’t see him as a champion of one cause, as a narrow ideologue who wants to impose his views on the country. They see him as open minded, respectful, thoughtful, devoted to the law, and truly one of the great legal minds of his time. That carries a great deal of weight with me.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile committee Republicans as expected had nothing but praise for the judge.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Whether you are for or against him, you see him as a person with a brilliant mind.

SEN. MIKE PENCE: Judge John Roberts is modest, he’s decent, and he’s a fair man who’s earned the title of chief justice of the United States.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: I have never in my whole time here seen a witness who made such sense and who literally was so superior.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: The clerk will call the role.

KWAME HOLMAN: After the senators spoke, Chairman Arlen Specter called for the vote and the Roberts nomination cleared the committee comfortably, thirteen to five, setting up a full Senate vote by next Thursday. And Chairman Specter told committee staff to be ready to work on hearings for the president’s next Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.