Senate Set to Move Quickly on Roberts Nomination

The first Monday in October, the day the Supreme Court begins its term, sounds far away in the heat of July. Still, with a Supreme Court nominee in waiting, Republican senators are moving quickly to complete the time-consuming confirmation process in time to have a new justice in place by then.

“It’s important that we have a nominee confirmed by then,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. “We’ll have time to do that.”

Confirmation hearings for U.S. Appeals Court Judge John G. Roberts are expected to take place before the Senate Judiciary Committee in late August or early September.

In preparation for the hearings, the committee will conduct its own vetting of the nominee while lawmakers are on a monthlong August recess.

Roberts himself was wasting no time, scheduling visits Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s top Democrat.

The Judiciary Committee’s other members _ nine Republicans and seven Democrats _ are expecting courtesy visits from Roberts before scattering for vacation at the end of next week.

Committee aides have said they need three to six weeks to prepare for confirmation hearings, depending on how deep they go into the nominee’s background. That means the first hearing would be in late August at the earliest and possibly not until after Labor Day.

Specter and Leahy will negotiate how many witnesses will be allowed to speak for and against the nominee, but the hearings are not likely to last more than a week.

The committee will then make a positive, negative or no recommendation to the full Senate. Whatever the recommendation, the Senate traditionally votes on the nomination.

However, if Roberts turns out to be a controversial nominee, that could force a showdown over the use of a filibuster to block a confirmation vote. A nominee needs only a simple majority to be confirmed _ 51 votes if all 100 senators vote _ but breaking a filibuster requires 60 votes.

Senate Democrats have blocked six of Bush’s lower-court nominees through filibusters. Frist has threatened to force a vote on prohibiting use of the parliamentary tactic on Supreme Court and federal appeals court nominations if Democrats try it again.

A showdown over judicial filibusters in May was averted when 14 senators _ seven from each party _ signed a pact not to participate in them except in extraordinary circumstances. The “Gang of 14” also agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.


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