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The New York Times
Lone Woman on Committee Feels Pull of Further Duty in Roberts Hearings
By DEAN E. MURPHY
Published: August 26, 2005
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 25 - It was the sight of Anita F. Hill being brusquely questioned by an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee about her sexual harassment charges against Clarence Thomas, then a United States Supreme Court nominee, that helped propel Dianne Feinstein into the Senate in 1992.
In the years since, Mrs. Feinstein, a Democrat from California, has carved out an identity as a moderate who can work with both parties. She has backed some of President Bush's agenda while also remaining popular in her largely Democratic home state, where she typically earns the highest approval ratings of any elected official.
But now Mrs. Feinstein, 72, is the only woman on the Judiciary Committee as it considers the first conservative nominee to the Supreme Court and the first to be challenged by abortion rights groups and other liberal groups since Justice Thomas was confirmed in 1991.
That has placed Mrs. Feinstein at the center of a political maelstrom, with Democrats split over how aggressively to challenge the nominee, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., and some liberals saying they worry that Mrs. Feinstein is not the standard bearer they need to help turn the tide against him.
"I think Dianne is more interested in protecting her centrist credentials than her feminist credentials," said Representative Maxine Waters, a fellow California Democrat, who said she "expects nothing" of Mrs. Feinstein in the hearings because the judge's confirmation "has already been decided" behind closed doors.
"Her politics are centrist," Ms. Waters said, "or making sure she is not identified as being too strong a Democrat and making sure she has some Republican credentials. That's her political image and identification."
Mrs. Feinstein says she is not unnerved by the political crosswinds. "I have resisted pressure points," she said after delivering a speech on Judge Roberts here this week.
"I have rebuffed them from the beginning, and stay away," Mrs. Feinstein said of the various groups trying to influence her and the proceedings. "I'm not a newcomer to the committee. I have been through two Supreme Court hearings. I know what they are. I know what they should be. I know we have to do our due diligence."
But the pressure is certainly there, particularly from groups that favor abortion rights. Ellen R. Malcolm, president of Emily's List, a fund-raising and advocacy group for Democratic women who support abortion rights, said she had had several conversations with Ms. Feinstein about the Roberts nomination. Emily's List was instrumental in raising money for Mrs. Feinstein and the three other women first elected to the Senate in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman for Democrats.
Ms. Malcolm said she was convinced that Mrs. Feinstein "will work very hard to understand what's at stake during this confirmation process." She offered no prediction of how Mrs. Feinstein would vote.
"I think she wants to hear what Mr. Roberts has to say," Ms. Malcolm said, adding, "A lot of people understand that Senator Feinstein believes in Roe v. Wade and are counting on her to make sure it's not overturned."
Colleagues and associates of Mrs. Feinstein say that she is poignantly aware of the expectations surrounding her unique position on the committee and that her mind is not made up on the Roberts nomination. Many of them also acknowledge that she has a strong independent streak and suggest that it would be foolhardy to regard her as a lapdog for any particular interest group or viewpoint.
"Dianne is at a stage in her life where she doesn't need to prove anything to anyone," said Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, who appeared with Mrs. Feinstein this week in Silicon Valley. "I think there is very little chance that she will posture in a calculated way for political purposes."
Many of those concerned about Mrs. Feinstein have private rumblings that sound a similar theme: Though Mrs. Feinstein has always been a public champion of Roe v. Wade, she is not a sure vote on anything, including against a court nominee whose views on women's issues are anathema to many liberals.
"As much as it might drive us absolutely bananas," one prominent abortion rights activist said, "if you can convince Dianne Feinstein, you have a much better chance of getting a moderate Republican to follow her lead."
Some suggest Mrs. Feinstein has contributed to the anxiety by carefully parsing her words on Roe v. Wade, the case that made abortion legal in 1973 and that many abortion rights advocates fear Judge Roberts would undo. In speeches here and in San Jose this week, Mrs. Feinstein pronounced the paramount importance of determining Judge Roberts's views on the case, but did not pledge to vote against his nomination if he failed that test.
"It would be very difficult for me to vote to confirm someone to the Supreme Court whom I knew would overturn Roe v. Wade and return our country to the days of the 1950's," Mrs. Feinstein told a luncheon meeting of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
When asked after the speech why she was not more unequivocal - perhaps saying impossible instead of "very difficult" - she refused to elaborate.
"I am not going to go into that," she said. "I said what I meant."
Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of Feminist Majority, a group that has announced its opposition to Judge Roberts, said too much was being made of the wiggle room Mrs. Feinstein might have left herself.
"I think she is going to ask some very penetrating questions," Ms. Spillar said. "What we need to be concerned about is whether Judge Roberts will answer the questions honestly and fully."
The liberal consternation surrounding Mrs. Feinstein began in the very first days following Judge Roberts's nomination in July. The judge paid a visit to Mrs. Feinstein on Capitol Hill, and after an hour or so, they emerged for the cameras, all smiles.
Mrs. Feinstein told reporters at that time that she could not imagine Senate Democrats using a filibuster to block the nomination.
In her speeches this week, Mrs. Feinstein sought to shore up her credentials on women's issues important to Democrats, while stopping short of saying how she will vote.
Mrs. Feinstein insisted that the Senate would "not simply act as a rubber stamp" for the White House.
"As the only woman on the committee, I have an additional role to play in representing the views and concerns of 145 million American women during this hearing process," Mrs. Feinstein said.
She invoked the memory of the Thomas hearings and what she called the "demeaning treatment" Ms. Hill received.
"Well, that day is gone," Mrs. Feinstein said to a thunderous ovation in Los Angeles. "It will not occur again."
But the difficulty in professing to represent 145 million women was being illustrated even as Mrs. Feinstein made that promise. In Washington, groups supporting the Roberts nomination, including Women for Roberts, were calling on her to look beyond the base of her party.
"For too long, far-leftist organizations consumed with only one agenda, the pro-abortion agenda, have claimed they represent all women in general," Connie Mackey, a vice president at the Family Research Council, said at a news conference. "Message No. 1: They do not."
Feinstein: Roberts' abortion stance key
Powerful senator says her vote could hinge on single issue
James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Los Angeles -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, speaking to a large gathering of lawyers, made it clear Wednesday that maintaining a woman's right to have an abortion would be the litmus test she would apply in deciding whether to support Judge John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court.
Feinstein, who has long supported abortion rights, has said Roberts' view of the landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling would influence her decision on his nomination as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But her comments to the lawyers and to reporters afterward marked the first time she has stated that her vote on Roberts' nomination would hinge on his position on this single contentious issue.
"It would be very difficult for me to vote to confirm someone to the Supreme Court whom I knew would overturn Roe and return our country to the days of the 1950s," the 72-year-old Democratic senator said.
Feinstein -- who has carved out a role as a political centrist and has distanced herself from some of the more critical remarks made about Roberts by liberal Senate Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy of Vermont -- has spoken highly of Roberts in the past and repeated her admiring comments Wednesday. She said he is bright, experienced and qualified for the job.
But, stressing the importance of the abortion issue, she also declared that "nothing's a slam-dunk" and that President Bush's choice of Roberts for the high court is still far from assured of confirmation. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin hearings on Sept. 6.
Activists on both sides have stepped up their efforts to influence the Senate's view of Roberts as the hearings approach on the 50-year-old appellate court judge who served as a lawyer in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its support for Roberts on Wednesday, while the liberal People for the American Way opposed the conservative judge. A number of abortion-rights groups also have announced their opposition.
In Los Angeles, Feinstein reviewed many legal issues she says are relevant to the Senate's consideration of Roberts' nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but she spent much of her time talking about abortion.
The senator spoke in highly personal terms of her experiences during college with classmates who she said had to rush secretly across the border to Tijuana for abortions, and of one friend who committed suicide because of an unwanted pregnancy.
"I believe the choice is clear," she said. "Government should not be allowed to interfere in personal, family decisions and overrule the most difficult choices a family can make. The question I have is how John Roberts will react to these real-life dilemmas when and if they come before him."
Feinstein's remarks may help define abortion rights as the most important question in the nomination battle taking shape in the Senate, and they also sent a message to Roberts and his Republican supporters that if he avoids articulating a position on the Supreme Court rulings that have guaranteed access to abortion, he is likely to lose her vote. Feinstein often has been viewed as a swing vote on contentious nominations in the committee of 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.
"They make a mistake if they stonewall the committee" about the legal right to abortion, she said in comments to reporters after her speech at a downtown hotel. She added that the fuzzier Roberts' answers on the subject, which many expect, the more inclined she and other Democrats will be to "assume the worst" and oppose him.
In her long and detailed speech to the Los Angeles County Bar Association and Public Counsel, a public interest legal group, Feinstein carefully analyzed the Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist and expressed deep reservations about some of its decisions.
In many instances, Feinstein noted the swing-vote role played by O'Connor, whose retirement opened up the nomination battle, and Feinstein gave her a mixed report card.
Feinstein said O'Connor opposed several Supreme Court decisions that overturned federal or state laws, such as laws banning guns within 1,000 feet of schools, laws allowing victims of rape to sue their attackers in federal court and a California law that permitted limited use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Feinstein also fretted that the Rehnquist court has, in her view, been unusually activist in restricting the power of Congress.
But Feinstein praised O'Connor's role in affirming the basic right to abortion in the 1992 Casey vs. Planned Parenthood decision, and, eight years later, in voting to strike down a Nebraska state law banning a form of late- term abortion, known by the medical term intact dilation and evacuation.
"It is my hope that Judge Roberts would play a role similar to Justice O'Connor's on the court and bring with him a voice defined by temperance and open-mindedness," Feinstein said.
Feinstein added that, while she has "a feeling" Roberts would not vote to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision, she still is uncertain where he stands, even after a one-hour private meeting in Washington earlier.
"I am really not sure what his views are," she said.
She acknowledged that it is highly unlikely Roberts will clearly spell out his views on abortion at the coming hearings. Thus, she said, much of her attention is focused on working with other Democrats to fashion questions that would allow them, through hints and suggestions, to ferret out Roberts' position.
"I did get a 'feeling' " Roberts supports abortion rights, Feinstein said, then added, "Well, you can't take a feeling to the bank."
Feinstein on court nominee.
What she said
"It would be very difficult for me to vote to confirm someone to the Supreme Court whom I knew would overturn Roe and return our country to the days of the 1950s.".
Feinstein has generally spoken highly of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, but she also noted that "nothing's a slam-dunk.".
The fuzzier Roberts is on the issue of abortion, the more likely she and other Democrats will "assume the worst" and oppose him.
E-mail James Sterngold at email@example.com.
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Posted 8/24/2005 10:34 PM Updated 8/25/2005 7:38 AM
Sen. Feinstein looks to press Roberts on abortion
By Martin Kasindorf and Mark Memmott, USA TODAY
A prominent Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that she'll press Supreme Court nominee John Roberts for his views on abortion rights and other women's issues at his confirmation hearings next month.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., indicated in a speech to two lawyers' groups in Los Angeles that she will measure Roberts against the record of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom he would replace. The moderately conservative O'Connor, often the deciding vote on the divided court, played a key role in a 5-4 ruling in 1992 that preserved Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide.
"As the only woman on the committee, I have an additional role to play: representing the views and concerns of 145 million American women during this hearing process," Feinstein said. "It is my hope that Judge Roberts would play a role similar to Justice O'Connor's ... and bring with him a voice defined by temperance and open-mindedness."
Feinstein later told reporters that she hasn't prejudged how she'll vote on Roberts, a federal appeals judge whom she praised as having "a very fine, keen, sharp legal mind." She ducked a question on whether Senate Democrats are divided over whether to oppose President Bush's choice for the high court, but she left no doubt that her vote will be guided by what Roberts says about his views on abortion rights.
"It would be very difficult for me to vote to confirm someone to the Supreme Court whom I knew would overturn Roe and return our country to the days of the 1950s," Feinstein said.
Despite a private, one-hour meeting with Roberts recently, "I am really not sure what the views are," she said.
Roberts has said he regards the Roe v. Wade decision as "settled precedent," but as a government lawyer during the administration of the first President Bush he filed briefs urging the high court to overturn Roe.
Feinstein said she wants to know whether Roberts considers Roe "well enough settled" to refrain from seeking to exercise the Supreme Court's prerogative of overturning it.
In Washington, the media campaign over Roberts' nomination heated up, as a leading liberal group announced it would oppose him and a pro-business group said it would back him.
People for the American Way will oppose Roberts' nomination because his record as a lawyer in the Reagan and first Bush administrations suggests he would "dramatically shift the balance of the court to the right ... and turn back the clock decades" on civil rights, women's rights and privacy rights, group President Ralph Neas said.
Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said his group is supporting Roberts because of his "fairness, keen intellect, open-mindedness and judicious practice of the law."
Dianne Feinstein (US Senator D-California)
by alfayoko2005 | 2005-08-27 03:39