Most Senate Democrats Will Vote for Roberts

Barring some startling new revelation, the betting is that a majority of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate will vote to confirm John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States.

25 Dems could vote for Roberts (The Hill)

Members of the Senate Democrats̢۪ K Street inner circle are predicting that as many as 25 Democrats will vote to confirm John Roberts as chief justice of the United States. Several attendees of the Monday Group, as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid̢۪s (D-Nev.) biweekly lobbyist meetings are known, said the Democrats could suffer politically if their Roberts strategy misfires. Left-wing ideological groups are pressuring Democratic lawmakers to expose Roberts̢۪s conservative record without workable grounds for a fight, Monday Group lobbyists said.

“It’s not a good thing for Democrats to be dragged into a visible, high-profile battle on him for weeks when Congress ought to be dealing with issues the public really cares about,” one key Democratic lobbyist said. “That’s the biggest danger for Democrats, if they get sucked into something like that because of the ideological left.”

Though some Democrats already have called for Congress to focus on aiding the blighted Gulf Coast as the new session begins, planning for the Roberts hearings likely will dominate the Monday Group’s next meeting, on Sept. 12. Informal discussions among some lobbyists and Democratic aides during the recess were said to yield little in the way of cohesive counsel. “There is no real coordinated effort to enlist K Street in getting involved,” said another well-connected Democrat, one of many who hailed Roberts as an unassailably shrewd selection. “There’s no sense in creating a big dustup now downtown, when what are you going to fight about?”

Democratic lobbyists̢۪ greatest concern about Roberts is not pinning down his positions on federal preemption or civil rights, despite the recent Monday Group guest appearance of Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Many K Street Democrats instead questioned what they characterized as poorly coordinated messaging from liberal groups that has unduly influenced some lawmakers.

“The other dirty little secret the Democrats have to deal with is … there may be some in party who see it as, ‘It would be worthwhile to drag it out a little bit so we can raise some money off the deal’” from left-wing special interests, a Monday Group member said. “That’s shortsighted, and politically dangerous too.”

In particular, Democratic lobbyists singled out the NARAL Pro-Choice Alliance decision to endorse Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who is certain to face a tough reelection fight next year, in a potential bid to sway him on Roberts. If Chafee spurns the pro-abortion-rights group by voting to confirm, his Democratic challenger could be weakened, and Monday Group lobbyists said a Republican voting against Roberts would be highly unlikely.

“I’d advise my clients to stay out of this one,” said another lobbyist with ties to Democratic leadership. “Why would they use up political capital on something they can’t possibly win on or benefit from? … I don’t see a good opening for us.”

While such craven political calculations may be unseemly in something as serious as the decision as to who should lead the Supreme Court, this is an unfortunate–and bipartisan–reality. The Democrats are almost certainly making the right move here. Roberts will be confirmed and is seen by the public as a mainstream, if conservative, choice. Vitriolic opposition to such a man would only make Democrats seem extremist.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.