WASHINGTON — Predicting an easy confirmation for John Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he hoped President Bush's next Supreme Court nominee will share Roberts' conservative credentials.
"I hope that we'll have somebody who is modest like Judge Roberts says he is, someone who will promote stability so there are no sharp turns," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
With Roberts' rise from appeal courts to the high court all but assured, Bush has begun early consultations on filling the vacancy created by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Bush plans to meet on Wednesday with Specter, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Leahy, appearing with Specter on CBS' "Face the Nation," said he expects to hear specific names from the president at the White House breakfast meeting.
Possible replacements include federal appellate judges Edith Clement, Edith Hollan Jones and Emilio Garza. Also mentioned have been judges J. Michael Luttig, Samuel A. Alito Jr., James Harvie Wilkinson III and Michael McConnell; lawyer Miguel Estrada; former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson; and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"I would hope that we could see the court have less 5-4 decisions and speak with more clarity," Leahy said. "I think the president, with four of us there, may well get some response on what we think about those names."
During last week's confirmation hearings, Roberts declined to elaborate on specific issues such as whether he would uphold the 1973 landmark abortion decision of Roe v. Wade. Still, some Democrats have shown little appetite for a political fight since Roberts would fill the seat of conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, an opponent of Roe.
O'Connor's seat, however, poses a different question because her vote could tip a court closely divided on abortion, the death penalty, gay rights and affirmative action.
Specter said he is confident Roberts will support privacy rights such as abortion and believes a judge in the same mold would be an appropriate replacement for O'Connor.
"I'd like to hear that the president is going to maintain balance and have a very evenly divided court," he said.
The first vote on Roberts is expected Thursday in the 18-member committee, which is divided between 10 Republicans and eight Democrats. The full Senate — composed of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont — is scheduled to vote the week of Sept. 26, in time for Roberts to take his seat when the court opens a new term on Oct. 3.
One moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said Sunday she will vote to confirm Roberts.
"My personal discussions with Judge Roberts, as well as his responses during the Judiciary Committee hearings, have convinced me that he respects precedents and will apply the law and Constitution fairly," Collins, who supports abortion rights, said in a statement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Roberts will be a reliable conservative on the court, but he said Republicans will be disappointed if they are counting on him to overturn Roe.
"If your view of conservative is he'll have to decide your way, you'll be disappointed," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Judge Roberts will listen to the arguments from those challenging it and those seeking to uphold it and make a decision not based on politics but the rule of law," Graham said.
A New York Times editorial on Sunday urged senators to vote against Roberts, saying the 50-year-old appeals court judge is too much of a risk to confirm because of his unclear positions.
"On abortion, church-state separation, gay rights and the right of illegal immigrants' children to attend public school — all currently recognized by the court — he asks to be accepted on faith," the editorial said. "That just isn't good enough."
The Washington Post, however, said in an editorial Sunday that Roberts was "overwhelmingly qualified."
"Judge Roberts represents the best nominee liberals can reasonably expect from a conservative president who promised to appoint judges who shared his philosophy," according to the editorial.
Former President Clinton said many Democrats may choose to vote against Roberts even though he is well qualified because Roberts could shift the direction of court.
"The Roe v. Wade issue is a big issue, because Justice (Clarence) Thomas said he'd never even discussed it with anybody, and then, like the minute he got on the court, he made it clear that he wanted to repeal it," Clinton told ABC's "This Week."
Clinton said he did not know whether his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., would vote against Roberts.