Senate Judiciary Committee Profiles

Republicans
Committee Chairman:
Arlen Specter (R-Penn.)
Democrats
Ranking Member:
Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.)

Confirmation Hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committee

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washingtonpost.com Staff and Wire Reports
Monday, January 31, 2005; 6:00 PM

By the narrowest margin since Clarence Thomas's 1991 nomination, the Senate voted, on January 31, 58 to 42 - largely along party lines - to confirm Samuel Alito Jr. to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, who often was the pivotal vote on a closely divided court.

Alito, 55, was quickly sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the other conservative whom President Bush named to the nine-member court after 11 years without a vacancy.

Confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the next chief justice of the Supreme Court began on Mon., Sept. 12 and ended 10 days later with a 13 to 5 vote in favor of sending his nomination to the Senate floor. On Thurs., Sept. 29, the Senate voted 78 to 22 to confirm Roberts. 

The committee members are:

REPUBLICANS

Chairman: Arlen Specter (Pa.)

Specter, a moderate Republican, will chair the confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The five-term Republican has a history of upsetting certain constituencies. In a moment of candor that almost cost him the chairmanship, Specter angered conservatives after his re-election last year by saying anti-abortion judges would have difficulty winning Senate confirmation.

The chairman has praised Alito for his candor and said on Mon., Nov. 7, that he would question Alito about abortion, but would not ask him how he would rule on any particular matter. "The Judiciary Committee you can be assured will give Judge Alito's nomination a very, very thorough review," Specter said.

Arlen Specter
Arlen Specter
Specter sent a letter to Judge John G. Roberts Jr. after his nomination warning him that lawmakers were angry about the Supreme Court's perceived denigration of Congress. Specter questioned Roberts closely about this issue during his nomination hearings.

Specter voted in favor of Roberts and Alito both in committee and when the full Senate moved on their confirmations.

Orrin G. Hatch (Utah)

Hatch, a senior committee member and former chairman, said recently that Alito was clearly qualified and should not face opposition from Democrats.

Orrin Hatch
Orrin Hatch
"Ideology should not be the determination," Hatch said. "It ought to be the practical application of the laws that exist. In this case, you'd have a rough time finding anybody who has more expertise and more ability in the law than Judge Sam Alito."

The senator championed Roberts prior to his confirmation, describing him as "a brilliant constitutional lawyer with unquestioned integrity. He's the kind of judge that all of us want -- someone committed to applying the law impartially rather than legislating from the bench."

Hatch is a strong supporter of President Bush's judicial nominees and an abortion opponent. Nevertheless, he has reached across the aisle in the past, working with liberal stalwart Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on legislation to pay for poor children's health care by increasing cigarette taxes.

Hatch voted in favor of Roberts and Alito both in committee and when the full Senate moved on their confirmations.

Charles E. Grassley (Iowa)

Grassley is one of the few non-lawyers on the committee; he is a farmer. 

Charles Grassley
Charles Grassley
The five-term Republican noted the unpredictable nature of the nomination process when he said that the seven sitting justices appointed by Republican presidents have behaved unexpectedly on the court. "We ended up with two liberals, two moderates and three conservatives," he said.

But in early November the senator told critics who fear Alito may tip the court's balance in favor of conservatives if he is confirmed, "If Alito is conservative, and we won't know until after the hearing, then he would bring balance to the court."

When he met with Roberts, Grassley said he gave the judge some advice: "It seems like the less [nominees] say to the committee, the better off they are."

Grassley is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gun control and has voted before to confirm conservative judges.

Grassley voted in favor of Roberts and Alito both in committee and when the full Senate moved on their confirmations.

Jon Kyl (Ariz.)

Jon Kyl
Jon Kyl
Kyl, presumed to be an Alito supporter, was one of the first senators to meet with the judge following his nomination.

Kyl chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which released a statement in July that said "no judicial nominee should be compelled to answer any question that would force him or her to prejudge or signal future conclusions regarding any case or issue."

The statement criticized Senate Democrats for demanding Roberts announce his positions on "questions that the Supreme Court will be deciding after he is confirmed."

Kyl met with Roberts in late July and said the nominee was "very impressive and clearly has the background, temperament and potential to be a solid addition to the Supreme Court."

Roberts's nomination was Kyl's first vote on a Supreme Court nominee as either a member of the committee or a senator; he Roberts's favor both in committee and when the full Senate moved on his confirmation. Kyl also voted for Alito in both circumstances.

Mike DeWine
Mike DeWine
Mike DeWine (Ohio)

DeWine also met with Alito soon after his nomination was announced and the senator has since said he would resist any move to filibuster the judge's confirmation.

Following Roberts's nomination, DeWine commended President Bush for "sending a very well qualified nominee to the Senate for its consideration."

The two-term senator was one of the so-called "Gang of 14'' - seven Republicans and seven Democrats - who averted a Senate showdown over Bush's nominees to the lower courts.

DeWine voted to confirm both Roberts and Alito in committee and when the full Senate moved on the nominations.

Sessions
Sessions
Jeff Sessions (Ala.)

Sessions was nominated in 1986 to be a federal district judge in Alabama and was rejected after civil rights groups claimed he had made racially insensitive statements and pursued politically motivated prosecutions of civil rights activists. He now serves with some of the same senators that voted against his nomination.

Following his interview with Alito, Sessions described him as "delightful." "He engages you well," Sessions said of Alito. "He understands what he believes, but he's easy to talk with."

Sessions has said he would join with DeWine to thwart attempts to filibuster Alito's confirmation.

The senator voted to confirm Roberts and Alito both in committee and when the full Senate moved on the nominations.  

Lindsey Graham
Lindsey Graham
Lindsey Graham (S.C.)

An attorney, Graham is a former Air Force lawyer and the only senator serving in the National Guard or Reserves. He was a member of the "Gang of 14'' - seven Republicans and seven Democrats - who averted a Senate showdown over Bush's nominees to the lower courts.

Graham also said he would not allow Democrats to filibuster Alito's confirmation. "I don't believe that, with all sincerity, I could let that happen," the senator said in November following a meeting with the judge.

When the committee and full Senate moved on Roberts' confirmation the South Carolinian voted in his favor; he voted similarly in both cases for Alito as well.

John Cornyn (Tex.)

Cornyn is a former judge on the state court in San Antonio and Texas Supreme Court in Austin. The freshman senator is also a former Texas attorney general.

John Cornyn
John Cornyn
Cornyn, who was considered by some court watchers and journalists to be a possible Supreme Court nominee candidate, said after meeting with Alito that the nominee "commiserated" with him "about the problems that the Supreme Court has had in coming up with a coherent body of law that is clear and can be easily applied, and can be predictable in a way that doesn't discourage people from expressing their religious views."

Prior to Roberts's confirmation hearings, Cornyn urged the committee to be careful with the questions it asked the chief justice nominee. "America deserves a nominee who reveres the law, not one whose service on the bench is conditioned on political promises."

Insisting on specific questions about whether a case like Roe v. Wade was correctly decided "will undoubtedly force [Roberts] to prejudge a case that is currently pending on the court's docket."

Cornyn voted to confirm Roberts and Alito in committee and when the full Senate moved on the nominations.

Sam Brownback (Kan.)

Sam Brownback
Sam Brownback
Brownback, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, is the committee's youngest member. He is involved in social issues important to social conservatives. He is an abortion opponent and against embryonic stem cell research. 

He called the question of when life begins "the central issue of our day" and one that the hearings will spotlight.

After his meeting with Alito, Brownback said, "This is the type of nominee I've been asking for," and described him as "an individual of unquestionable qualifications and a long judicial track record." 

The senator voted in favor of Roberts and Alito in committeee and when the full Senate moved on their confirmations.

Tom Coburn (Okla.)

Tom Coburn
Tom Coburn
Coburn, who listed Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as model justices, said, "If you have somebody first of all who has that connection with their personal faith and their allegiance to the law, you don't get into the Roe v. Wade situation."

"I am looking for somebody who is not going to make that mistake again in any other area of life," said Coburn, who is antiabortion.

After their meeting, Coburn called Alito a "very qualified jurist."  

Coburn is a physician by training and is the newest member of the Judiciary Committee.

When the committee and full Senate moved on the chief justice confirmation, Coburn voted in favor of Roberts. Coburn similarly approved the nomination of Samuel Alito.

For more information about the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, visit the committee's Web site at http://judiciary.senate.gov/.

DEMOCRATS

Ranking Member: Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.)

Patrick Leahy
Patrick Leahy
"This is not about competence," Leahy told reporters after meeting with Alito. "This is a whole issue about ideology. If someone comes in with an agenda, as an activist judge, as someone who his supporters has suggested he will be, then he shouldn't be there," Leahy said.

During the Roberts confirmation hearing, Leahy was vociferous in requesting documents Roberts wrote when he worked for presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan that could provide "a practical sense of how, when and why politics and the law intersect for him."

He said the White House's refusal to release some of those documents was part of the administration's pattern of "stonewalling the Senate and the public." Leahy said that his party's request was "a carefully crafted and narrow request for a few documents that might illuminate Judge Roberts's views on important issues of concern to all Americans -- civil rights, privacy and access to justice."

Leahy has served as the committee's ranking Democratic member and twice served as committee chairman, briefly in 2002 and once in 2000. Has led the party through several high-profile confirmation battles, from the 1991 Thomas hearings to former Sen. John Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general in 2001.

Leahy voted in favor of Roberts's nomination in commitee and was one of 22 Democrats who voted to confirm Roberts when the full Senate took up the measure in September. Leahy voted against Alito's nomination in both the committee and on the Senate floor.

Edward Kennedy
Edward Kennedy
Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.)

Kennedy led the effort against Robert Bork, whose Supreme Court nomination was rejected in 1987. He is the committee's Democratic elder statesman, having served seven full terms in the Senate.

But the senator has expressed some concern about the nominee.

"The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down [fomer nominee Harriet Miers] are so enthusiastic about this nominee. We have to find out why are they so enthusiastic this time and what do they know that we don't know," Kennedy said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Kennedy is also pressing Alito to explain his role in a 2002 appeals case involving a mutual fund company with which he had a six-figure investment.  

Kennedy was one of three Democrats to vote against Roberts in his 2003 confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The senator voted against Roberts' nomination both in committee and when the Senate took up the measure in September. Kennedy opposed Samuel Alito's nomination in both the committee and on the Senate floor.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.)

Joe Biden
Joe Biden
Biden, who has been open about aiming for the White House in 2008, said he's not sure if would vote to confirm Alito, but "I will vote against Alito if he doesn't answer the questions."

According to the senator, nominees are "required to let the American people know how they view the Constitution and what methodology they will use."

Biden was committee chairman from 1987-1995, handling confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, and defeated nominee Robert Bork.

The senator voted against confirming both Roberts and Alito in commitee and when the full Senate moved on the measures.

Herbert Kohl (Wis.)

Herbert Kohl
Herbert Kohl
Kohl, a moderate Democrat, vowed not to prejudge Alito.

"I will give Judge Alito's record and judicial philosophy the most careful scrutiny in the weeks ahead," Kohl said.

Kohl is a self-made millionaire (and owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks). He was one of a dozen Democrats to vote for Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001 and was one of 22 Democrats to vote in favor of confirming Roberts when the full Senate took up the measure in September.

Kohl voted against Alito's nomination in both the committee and on the Senate floor in January.

Diane Feinstein
Diane Feinstein
Dianne Feinstein (Calif.)

Feinstein is the first and remains the only woman on committee. The three-term senator and former mayor of San Francisco is a supporter of abortion rights.

In response to rumblings about a filibuster of Alito's nomination, the Californian flatly declared it would not happen.

Feinstein voted against Roberts's and Alito's confirmations both in commitee and in the full Senate.

Russell Feingold
Russell Feingold
Russell D. Feingold (Wis.)

Feingold said he wants more information about possible conflict-of-interest violations in a mutual fund case Alito participated in three years ago.

"I asked him a lot of questions about Vanguard and there are going to be more," Feingold said.

In July as the Roberts confirmation hearing dates closed in, Feingold said: "Before voting to confirm anyone to this most important post, I must be satisfied that the nominee will approach the difficult and controversial issues that the court is called upon to resolve with an open mind, not a preset ideological disposition."

Feingold was a member of the same Harvard Law School class (1979) as Roberts, but did not know him. The senator voted to confirm Roberts in committee and was one of 22 Democrats to vote in favor of Roberts when the full Senate moved on his confirmation.

Charles Schumer
Charles Schumer
Feingold voted against Alito's nomination in both the committee and on the Senate floor in January.

Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.)

Schumer, a leader in the opposition to Bush's judicial nominees, said after Alito's nomination that President Bush chose a "nominee likely to divide America."  

The senator has said that a filibuster is not completely out of the realm of possibility and has joined with his colleagues in questioning the Alito's role in a 2002 mutual fund case.

Schumer voted against confirming both Roberts and Alito in commitee and when the nominations came before the full Senate.

Dick Durbin
Dick Durbin
Richard J. Durbin (Ill.)

Durbin cautioned his colleagues to hear Alito's responses to their questions before deciding whether or not to filibuster his nomination.

"Let's give Judge Alito a clean start and not presume he is the right person or the wrong person until we see the evidence," Durbin told CBS' "Face the Nation."

In the lead up to the Roberts hearings, Durbin urged the nominee to be more forthcoming than he was when he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Durbin voted against both Roberts and Alito in committee and when the full Senate moved on their confirmations.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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