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Breyer Wins Senate Confirmation to Top Court, 87 to 9

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 30, 1994

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved Stephen G. Breyer as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, giving President Clinton his second easy confirmation of a judicial centrist to the high court.

Judge Breyer was confirmed, 87 to 9, despite a campaign against him by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who charged that Breyer's investment in a troubled Lloyd's of London syndicate suggested "extraordinarily bad judgment" and threatened financial entanglements that could compromise his work on the court.

All Democrats and a vast majority of Republicans voted for Breyer, with most of the opposition coming from GOP conservatives who joined the more moderate Lugar in questioning Breyer's investments but appeared especially concerned about the nominee's views on property rights and abortion.

Breyer, 55, a former Senate aide who is now chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, replaces retiring Justice Harry A. Blackmun and becomes the nation's 108th justice.

"The responsibility of that position is awesome, rather humbling," he said at a celebratory White House ceremony with Clinton. "I'll do my best."

Breyer's comfortable margin of victory fell short of the 96 to 3 vote by which the Senate approved Ruth Bader Ginsburg last August as Clinton's first high court nominee.

The Senate's bipartisan embrace of Ginsburg and Breyer contrasted with acrimonious debates over some nominees of presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan and with the increasingly partisan battles over Clinton's domestic legislative initiatives and conduct of foreign policy.

The records and views of Ginsburg and Breyer did not raise many ideological hackles, although there was some criticism of Breyer yesterday from both left and right. "Judge Breyer does not seem to have an ideological bent to move the court in one direction or another," said conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Breyer is a "moderate pragmatist," said another conservative, Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several conservatives complained that Breyer would not overturn rulings permitting abortions or go far enough in protecting property rights, while liberal Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) criticized what he described as the nominee's pro-business record in antitrust cases.

But most critics wound up by saying they would support Breyer, either because he was the president's choice or because he was "as good as we have a right to expect," as Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) put it.

There was even rare praise for Clinton from the Republican right. Hatch praised Clinton for his choice of Supreme Court nominees and for his treatment of Republicans in the confirmation process. "It's paid off for this nominee," he said.

In leading the charge against Breyer, Lugar said the nominee showed enough poor judgment to disqualify him for the court by making investments that exposed him to enormous losses under jurisdiction of foreign law. "His poor judgment now places him in an unnecessarily embarrassing predicament which erodes public trust," Lugar said.

Others defended Breyer's integrity, saying he was candid about his problems and recused himself as a judge from cases involving his Lloyd's investment. "An investment that turns sour is not necessarily a disqualifying event," Hatch said.

Joining Lugar in voting against Breyer were Republicans Conrad Burns (Mont.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Jesse Helms (N.C.), Robert C. Smith (N.H.), Don Nickles (Okla.), Trent Lott (Miss.), Paul Coverdell (Ga.) and Frank H. Murkowski (Alaska). Sens. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) and Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) did not vote.

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