Monday, September 12, 2005

Patrick Leahy outed as Deadhead


From the Orlando Sentinel:

2 senators' rapport may buffer hearing for Roberts
Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy will direct John G. Roberts Jr.'s inquiry.Jill Zuckman Chicago Tribune Posted September 12, 2005

WASHINGTON -- They met as young prosecutors more than three decades ago, two rising stars in law and politics. One was the district attorney in Philadelphia, the other the state's attorney from Vermont's most populous county.Starting today, the two friends will preside over the confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice, a potentially grueling inquisition that could fray the Senate's already strained partisan nerves.But going into the hearings, Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat, have managed to sidestep fights that might have erupted among other leaders.If the hearings, expected to last about a week, defy expectations and unfold in a fairly civil manner, it will be in large part because of the unlikely friendship between the independent-minded Republican and the Democrat who professes a love of the Grateful Dead.

In the hallways of the Senate, Specter and Leahy are often seen huddled together in quiet conversation. When Leahy has spied Specter surrounded by reporters, he has clapped his arm over Specter's back and joked more than once: "Whatever he says, I agree."But the fact is, the two often do agree -- or they agree to disagree and move on. "I couldn't be happier, unless of course we were in the majority and I was chairman," Leahy said about Specter's chairmanship in a recent interview."Things move much faster, much more smoothly. We both keep our word to each other."When they first met in 1970 at a conference of prosecutors, Specter said, "I was impressed with his intelligence and his congeniality and his youthfulness." And when he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January, Specter said he was determined to halt the panel's "personality battles.""Senator Leahy and I have our differences, but when it comes to procedures on the committee and setting how things are going to be done, I consult with him at every turn," Specter said.Such cooperative feelings have not always been the norm. Democrats bridled at the way the former chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, conducted business. They were annoyed that, as they saw it, their views were given short shrift.At Roberts' earlier confirmation hearing -- for the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. -- Hatch belittled Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., for his "dumb . . . questions."When the hearings begin Monday, each senator will make an opening statement, after which Roberts will likely make one of his own. It will not be until Tuesday that the questioning will begin, alternating between Republicans and Democrats.Many point out that the friendly relationship between Leahy and Specter does not guarantee the hearings will not devolve into acrimony. Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees -- from William Rehnquist to Robert Bork to Clarence Thomas -- have often turned blazingly partisan.Democrats say the hearings are far more important now that Roberts, who was initially nominated to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has been re-nominated as chief justice after Rehnquist's recent death. They are still frustrated that the Bush administration has refused their request for documents from Roberts' work in the Solicitor General's Office at the Justice Department, a request Specter did not support."I don't think the cordiality necessarily means everything will go smoothly," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal group that opposes Roberts' nomination. "I think it will be a robust questioning." He predicted a close vote in the committee.Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, urged a thorough examination of Roberts' views.Greenberger, whose organization opposes the nomination, said of Specter and Leahy: "Neither one believes the fact that Roberts was an excellent student in school and a superb lawyer in private practice means the end of the inquiry."Conservative judicial activists are bracing themselves for a difficult week, pointing out that serious opposition to Thomas' nomination did not emerge until his hearings had begun, 40 days after he was nominated.Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which supports Roberts' nomination, predicted grandstanding by the Democrats and urged Republicans "not to bring a knife to a gun fight."He said there might be comity on the surface because of Specter and Leahy's good relationship but cautioned that "the idea that a one-on-one relationship is really going to solve that pressure for discord strikes me as unrealistic."Jill Zuckman is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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