By a vote of 13-5, the Senate Judiciary Committee today recommended that the Senate confirm the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice of the United States.
Three Democrats joined all 10 Republicans supporting the nomination. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination next week, with little doubt that Roberts will be confirmed, and in time to take his seat on the high court bench in time for its first session of the term, on Oct. 3.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, was among the last whose vote was in question to disclose her decision, as the committee began its final pre-vote debate on Roberts. She voted against confirmation.
She was joined by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Joseph Biden of Delaware, and Richard Durbin of Illinois, all Democrats. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the panel, and fellow Democratic Sens. Russell D. Feingold and Herbert Kohl, both of Wisconsin, voted in favor of confirmation.
Explaining her decision, Feinstein, a California Democrat who has at times aligned herself with the party's moderates, said she had been disappointed with answers Roberts had provided during committee hearings. She said he had had the opportunity to distance himself from particularly conservative approaches he had taken to social policy ad legal issues as young aide in the Reagan administration's Justice Department and White House.
She also said that when asked about abortion, he had answered that he had used language much like that of Justice Clarence Thomas, when Thomas was confirmed, indicating that he had no quarrel with the precedents the court had established.
"I became concerned that the phrase 'I have no quarrel' is a term of art of equivocation," Feinstein said, adding: "I'm the only woman on this committee and when I started I said that would be my bar, and he didn't cross that bar."
I still would have liked to see what Roberts said on those cases the Bush administration refused to release to the committee members. Next time even more information might be withheld and the Democrats would have a tough time arguing that it should be offered given that they surrendered on Roberts.