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Democrats Say Nominee Will Be Hard to Defeat
But key differences could frustrate Democrats. Bolton was portrayed as a divisive figure before the document issue emerged, feeding the notion that he may have something to hide. Even some Democrats agreed that Roberts is "a very affable individual," as Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) put it yesterday, undermining any claim that he is concealing dark secrets.
Throughout the day, Democrats stressed that Roberts, 50, could spend 30 or more years on the court and that it is essential to scrutinize his record and philosophies. "A preliminary review of Judge Roberts's record suggests areas of significant concern that need exploration," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said in a floor speech. "We need to know what kind of Supreme Court justice John Roberts would be. I hope the White House and the nominee will work with us and cooperate so that all relevant matters can be constructively explored."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Democrats would not get far with such a strategy. "I'm sure that Schumer and Durbin and the usual suspects, Kennedy, will make a fuss over that," he said, referring to the three Democrats who opposed Roberts's appointment to the appellate court in 2003, Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.). "But if that's all they've got to hang their hat on, it's not very much."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) put it more colorfully. "It's a little bit like biblical Pharisees, you know, who basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ," he said on Fox News. "You know, it goes on the same way. If they can catch him in something, they can then criticize and the outside groups will go berserk."
Some of the outside groups wasted little time yesterday airing their dissent. NARAL Pro-Choice America, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and MoveOn.org said they will oppose Roberts because of his views on abortion, school prayer and other issues. Planned Parenthood staged a small protest outside the Supreme Court building.
"Clearly there is an obligation on the Senate, and a burden on the part of Roberts, to come to grips with what his judicial philosophy is, especially regarding [abortion] and privacy," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.
Their opposite numbers rallied behind Roberts with e-mail blitzes, new Web sites, and radio and television advertising. A $1 million commercial buy by Progress for America, a group allied with the White House, praises Roberts and calls on the Senate to endorse him expeditiously. "Shouldn't a fair judge be treated fairly?" the ad asks.
C. Boyden Gray, founder of the Committee for Justice, another group with ties to the White House, said more ad buys will depend on how aggressively the other side attacks Roberts. "It's apparent that the Democrats are going to hold back a little bit," he said. "I don't see where their traction comes from, myself. There's not going to be any filibuster."
The day after his nomination, Roberts began his quest for confirmation with an early-morning coffee with Bush. The president declared that the nomination was "off to a very good start" and vowed to "push the process forward because he and I both agree that it's important that he be sworn in prior to the court reconvening in October."
At a speech in Baltimore later in the day, Bush prodded the Senate further. "I urge the Senate to rise to the occasion, to provide a fair and civil process and to have Judge Roberts in place before the next court session begins," he said.
Roberts took off for Capitol Hill, squired by former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), now an actor. After Roberts chatted privately for 30 minutes with Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Specter, the four briefly sat for photographers .
"I appreciate and respect the constitutional role of the Senate in the appointment process," Roberts said. "And I'm very grateful to the senators for accommodating me and having me over here today just the day after the announcement of the nomination."
Roberts later paid brief visits to Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Leahy. He will return to call on other Judiciary Committee members today, but Democrats already seemed interested in changing the subject as Reid scheduled a morning news conference on defense matters.