Senators Go for Bush's Man

Roberts nomination sails along

At press time, 50-year-old John Roberts was sailing toward the Senate confirmation needed to install him as the nation's 17th U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, despite lingering concerns about his commitment to civil rights, equal protection under law, reproductive freedom, and a general right to privacy. After four seemingly endless days of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, dominated by long-winded, occasionally rambling, and sometimes embarrassingly fawning senatorial monologues, and during which Roberts successfully avoided revealing much of substance about his legal thinking, the committee voted 13-5 in favor of passing Roberts' confirmation to a vote by the full Senate. (Three of the eight Democratic senators on the committee voted in favor, including ranking minority member Patrick Leahy of Vermont.) According to The Washington Post, two-thirds of the 100 senators – including 13 Democrats – had already pledged to vote in favor of Roberts' confirmation before lawmakers began a floor debate on Sept. 26.

Still, not everyone is comfortable with the specter of a Roberts-led court. "I have too many doubts about the direction a Roberts court will take us. Persistent, nagging doubts," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Mikulski's wariness is shared most vocally by reproductive rights advocates, who are concerned that a Roberts court would be inclined to further restrict reproductive choice by chipping away at the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which effectively legalized abortion. The court is set to consider two repro rights-related cases during the upcoming term, which begins on Oct. 3. And if the Bush administration has its way, the court will add a third by docketing its appeal of a Nebraska case, in which the government is seeking to reinstate a federal law banning all late-term, or so-called partial-birth, abortions. Federal district and appellate judges in Nebraska ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it lacks an exception to protect the health of the mother. If the court accepts the case, justices likely will not hear it until next spring. By that time, a second Bush-nominated justice – replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the current court's crucial swing vote – will be on the bench.

Bush is expected to nominate O'Connor's replacement soon after Roberts' fate is decided (perhaps as soon as next week), and Democratic senators have urged the president to choose wisely, and moderately, in order to maintain a balanced bench. "We're asking him in this case especially: Be a uniter. Don't be a divider, for the sake of the country," Leahy told the Post.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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John Roberts, Patrick Leahy, George W. Bush, U.S. Supreme Court, Barbara Mikulski, Senate Judiciary Committee, Sandra Day O'Connor, Roe v. Wade, abortion rights, civil rights

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