Souter hearings end senators begin lining up behind him

September 20, 1990|By New York Times

WASHINGTON -- Minutes after the Senate Judiciary Committee ended its hearings on the nomination of Judge David H. Souter to the Supreme Court, several senators took to the Senate floor to announce that they would vote to confirm him.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican on the committee, whose vote against the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork helped doom that nomination three years ago, said yesterday he would vote for Souter, whom he praised as a man of "powerful intellect."

Other senators who were quick to say they would vote to confirm Souter when his name comes before the Senate were John H. Chafee of Rhode Island and John W. Warner of Virginia, both Republicans; and Jim Exon, a Nebraska Democrat.

Their statements reflect the overwhelming likelihood that Souter will be approved by the committee and confirmed easily.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the 14-member panel probably would vote on the nomination next Thursday. The full Senate would vote shortly afterward, but probably not in time for Souter to join the court on Oct. 1, when it will begin its new term.

Souter cannot vote on any cases argued before he joined the court.

When Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the Supreme Court in February 1988 the court, which had been short one justice for nearly five months, ordered the lawyers in some cases to return to argue their cases again.

In concluding the five days of hearings yesterday, Biden noted that some of the sessions had become fractious, largely because so much was at stake.

He said that with the retirement of Justice William J. Brennan Jr., whose seat Souter would assume, the court was split on important issues, including whether there was a constitutional right to abortion and the degree of separation of church and state.

Biden was apparently referring to some of the women's rights groups whose members were angry over what occurred when some of their leaders testified Tuesday.

Molly Yard, the president of the National Organization for Women, complained that Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, "lectured us like schoolchildren on proper behavior" during the hearing.

Simpson admonished Yard and others for what he said was grimacing after Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican, greeted them as "lovely ladies." Simpson said their attitude was one of "tiresome arrogance."

Yard said that comments like Thurmond's greeting "do not sit well with us," and noted that male witnesses were not greeted with comments about their appearance.

"Well, we don't have to quack around in that stuff, do we?" Simpson replied sharply.

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