Supporters, critics say Roberts on track for confirmation to court |

Supporters, critics say Roberts on track for confirmation to court

WASHINGTON – John Roberts is on track for a seat on the Supreme Court barring a misstep at hearings beginning Tuesday, according to supporters and critics who say the coming confirmation debate will test Senate Democrats as well as the nominee.Relatively few Republicans and no Democrats have formally announced how they will vote on the nomination of the 50-year-old appeals court judge, saying they first want to follow the hearings.Behind the studied show of neutrality, though, several Republicans who are tracking Roberts’ nomination say he already has the likely support of all but two or three of 55 GOP senators and perhaps a few Democrats – enough to assure confirmation unless liberals launch a filibuster.Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has pledged to preside over “efficient, dignified” hearings as chairman of a Judiciary Committee known for outbursts of unruly partisanship. At the same time, the Pennsylvania Republican said senators and the country “need to know much more” about Roberts’ judicial philosophy.President Bush named Roberts in July as the court’s first new justice in 11 years. If confirmed, he would succeed Sandra Day O’Connor, who has often cast a deciding vote on abortion, affirmative action and other issues.Conservatives, eager to have the court take a new direction, swiftly embraced Roberts when Bush appointed him.Given the political backdrop, Democrats, as well as the liberal groups that have already announced their opposition to the nomination, hope to use the hearings to flesh out Roberts’ judicial philosophy and views.The Democratic objective “is to figure out what kind of justice John Roberts will be,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a recent interview. “Will he be an ideologue who imposes his views on everyone through the courts or will he be a mainstream justice, albeit a conservative one?”Already, some Democrats have signaled the areas they intend to explore.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the only woman on the committee, has said she feels a “special role and a special obligation” to explore his views on the landmark 1973 case that established the right to an abortion.Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who will lead the Democratic questioning, informed Roberts that he will ask about a Justice Department memo that critics say led to torture of prisoners held by Americans overseas. “It will be raised, partly on the question of to what area – if any – can a president be considered above the law,” Leahy said.Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., likely will ask about civil rights. “This isn’t about 2006 or 2008,” he said recently. “This is about the direction of the country for the next 30 years and what protections will be afforded.”Among Republicans, Specter intends to ask about recent Supreme Court rulings invalidating laws passed by Congress. “I am concerned about the Supreme Court’s judicial activism which has usurped congressional authority,” he wrote to the nominee.Vail, Colorado

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