Tumbling Democrats: Leahy says he'll vote for Roberts

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says "only time will tell" if he's making the right choice.

Published September 21, 2005 3:31PM (EDT)

Outside the White House this morning, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said: "We all recognize the fact" that John G. Roberts "will be confirmed as chief justice." A short while later on the Senate floor, he said that he'd help make it happen. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he will vote to confirm Roberts when the committee takes up his nomination Thursday.

As Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid did yesterday, Leahy said that the Roberts nomination presents a "close question." Reid came out on the "no" side of that question, and Leahy offered plenty of reason for reaching the same conclusion: The White House failed to consult meaningfully with the Senate when the president nominated Roberts for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat or when he nominated him to replace William Rehnquist; the White House "stonewalled" the Democrats' requests for documents that might have shed light on Roberts' views; Republican senators "disserved the confirmation process" by urging Roberts not to discuss specific legal cases and issues; and Roberts "disserved himself" by refusing to answer dozens of questions posed to him during his confirmation hearings.

So why will Leahy vote yes? He says it's because Roberts reassured him that he would be less deferential to the executive branch -- and more deferential to Congress -- than he had been while working as a government lawyer.

Leahy acknowledged that he's putting a lot of faith in Roberts' promises, and that he ultimately may come to regret his vote, just as he says he now "questions" his vote to confirm Antonin Scalia two decades ago. But he said that Roberts is a "man of integrity," and that he took him at his word "that he does not have an ideological agenda."

"I respect those who have come to different conclusions, and I readily acknowledge the unknowable at this moment, that perhaps they are right and I am wrong," Leahy said. "Only time will tell."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Harry Reid Patrick J. Leahy D-vt.