Senators confirm Souter, 90-9 New justice to join colleagues Tuesday

October 03, 1990|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- With only nine senators opposed but several others saying they were keeping their fingers crossed, the Senate approved David H. Souter, 51, to be a Supreme Court justice yesterday.

After three hours and 38 minutes of speeches, the Senate voted 90-9 to make the New Hampshire judge the 105th person to sit on the highest court.

A conservative, Judge Souter is President Bush's first nominee to the court. He will replace liberal Justice William J. Brennan Jr., 84, who retired in July after suffering a mild stroke.

Judge Souter will be sworn in Tuesday morning and will immediately begin sitting in on hearings with the eight colleagues who just started a new term without him this week.

In the final Senate vote, all "no" votes were cast by Democrats -- including Maryland's Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Voting for Judge Souter were 46 Democrats and all 44 Republicans who voted. The only absentee was Sen. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., who has been campaigning for governor of California.

Although the new justice clearly won over many senators by his televised performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, a number of lawmakers took to the Senate floor to indicate they were voting for him not because they were sure he would vote on the court for civil rights for minorities and women, but because they were going to hope that he would.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., for example, said he was going to vote "my aspirations, rather than my fears." He said that during the Senate hearings, he saw in Judge Souter "a reassuring pragmatist without an ideological agenda."

By expressing reservations about Judge Souter, a number of Democrats appeared to be hoping to put President Bush on notice not to try to promote a more rigorously and openly committed conservative the next time a vacancy occurs on the court.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., urged the president not to "learn the wrong lesson" from the "lopsided vote" in favor of Judge Souter.

"This is not a sign that the Senate intends to be lax in its responsibilities," Mr. Biden said. "It is not a sign the Senate will use those powers only to screen out extreme nominees." He said that Judge Souter had come close to the line of being unacceptable to many Democrats.

Although most Republicans supported Judge Souter with enthusiasm, there was at least some worry among conservatives that he may turn out to be more moderate than they had hoped. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Senate that he was "not comfortable with every answer Judge Souter gave."

Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who went to Harvard when Judge Souter was also a student there, tended to reinforce some of the conservatives' concern by quoting another fellow student of that time as telling him about the nominee: "If I were a conservative, I would be petrified by this guy."

In 12 years as a state judge in New Hampshire, and previously as state attorney general there, Judge Souter had established a basic conservative stance on many legal, constitutional and public policy issues. During his Senate hearings, however, he took positions that largely cast himself as a moderate.

Joining Maryland's Senator Mikulski in voting against Judge Souter's confirmation were Democrats Brock Adams of Washington, Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Bill Bradley and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, Quentin N. Burdick of North Dakota, Alan Cranston of California, and Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts.

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