WASHINGTON – Senators considered Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts (search) so non-controversial that they approved him for a seat on a federal appeals court without a single recorded objection.
Whether Roberts will get that kind of support for the nation's highest court is unknown, but it bodes well for his bid to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search).
"It's a good choice," said Sen. John Warner (search), R-Va., a member of the powerful "Gang of 14" that recently prevented a Senate meltdown over judicial filibusters. When asked whether Roberts could be confirmed easily, Warner said, "I wouldn't predict anything, but it's certainly a good place to start."
Warner introduced Roberts at his 2003 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was confirmed for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals on an unrecorded voice vote of the Senate.
Another member of the "Gang of 14," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (search), D-Conn., told the Hartford Courant last week that Roberts would be one of three picks he thought would not spark a filibuster.
Seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact in May not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, the senators agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would not prejudge Roberts' nomination.
"The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry," Reid said. "The Senate must review Judge Roberts' record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness."
Three senators on the Judiciary Committee voted against Roberts when the committee sent its recommendation to the full Senate, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Roberts had refused to answer some of Schumer's questions in committee, which the senator said forced him to vote against Roberts.
"Now that he is nominated for a position where he can overturn precedent and make law, it is even more important that he fully answers a very broad range of questions," Schumer said. "I hope for the sake of the country that Judge Roberts understands this and answers questions openly, honestly and thoroughly."
The other two Democrats to vote against Roberts were Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called Roberts an "outstanding nominee."
"He embodies the qualities America expects in a justice on its highest court: someone who is fair, intelligent, impartial and committed to faithfully interpreting the Constitution and the law," Frist said.
Republicans sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will take the first vote on Roberts, immediately praised the pick.
Roberts is "a judge who sees himself a fair umpire who will fairly construe the Constitution and be faithful to it," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a former appeals court nominee who was blocked by Democrats.
Added Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former judge: "Judge Roberts is an exceptional judge, brilliant legal mind, and a man of outstanding character who understands his profound duty to follow the law. ... It is clear to me that Judge Roberts' history has prepared him well for the honor of serving this country on our nation's highest court."