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The last time John Roberts went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one senator accused another of asking dumb questions. Roberts, now a Supreme Court nominee, bore silent witness when Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch — to general laughter — voiced frustration with a line of inquiry pursued by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. Still, the episode underscored the uneven treatment that Roberts has received in the Senate since 1991, a period in which he was three times nominated to the federal appeals court and each time became entangled in a wider, long-running partisan struggle between Republicans and Democrats over the judiciary. “What is happening is escalating, and then there is escalating beyond that,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in 2003 of the partisan back-and-forth that extended far beyond Roberts. “I go back to 1987, when the Democrats won control of the Senate, President Reagan’s last two years, and it was tough, but not nearly as tough as it became later.” For their part, five years after President Clinton left office, Democrats recall the treatment many of his nominees received at the hands of majority Republicans. “There were 50 or 60 of President Clinton’s (nominations) that were never even given a hearing or a vote,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said at a committee meeting on May 8, 2003. “They just never went forward. It wasn’t a question of whether they had a vote for them or against them on the floor.” When Clinton gave way to Bush in the White House, Democrats exercised their rights to filibuster 10 first-term appeals court nominees, refusing to allow a final vote. After gaining seats in the 2004 elections, Senate Republicans redoubled their efforts to confirm Bush’s stalled appeals court nominees. The conflict intensified until a showdown over judicial nominations appeared inevitable earlier this year. At the last moment, a group of self-appointed centrists reached a compromise that cleared the way for confirming many of the blocked nominees, left others in limbo and preserved venerable filibuster rules. At the time, the clash was widely seen as the prelude to a bigger struggle in the event of a vacancy on the Supreme Court. And in fact, Roberts is the first high-profile judicial appointment since the agreement. His hearings are scheduled to begin today, with Specter, now the chairman, presiding. Whatever the outcome, Roberts is no stranger to confirmation wars. He “has been sitting here for 11 years, nominated three times by two different presidents,” Hatch said at one point as Democrats sought to put off a vote on his appeals court nomination early in 2003. A short summary of Roberts’ long road to the federal bench: � President George H.W. Bush nominated Roberts, then 36, to the federal appeals court in 1991. Senate Democrats, in power at the time, took no action and the nomination eventually died. When Bush lost the White House in 1992 to Bill Clinton, Roberts’ hopes of a judgeship were put on hold. � The current President Bush nominated Roberts to the appeals court in 2001. Before the Republicans took action, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont defected from the GOP. Senate control shifted back to the Democrats for 18 months. Angry over the treatment Clinton’s appointees received at the hands of the Republicans for six years, Democrats took no action on Roberts and others but did confirm dozens of other Bush choices. � Bush renominated Roberts in 2003. Back in the majority, Republicans held a hearing in the Judiciary Committee and forced a vote. Democrats erupted in anger, arguing that Hatch had upset precedent by holding a hearing for three controversial appeals court nominees at the same time. They also said he broke committee rules by forcing a quick vote. � Republicans relented, and Hatch, the committee chairman, convened a second hearing several weeks later. The final committee vote, on May 8, 2003, was 16-3 — the same as it had been a few weeks earlier. Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Schumer were opposed. Leahy, then as now the senior Democrat on the panel, voted in favor of the nomination. Other Democrats who remain on the committee and voted in favor of Roberts are Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl, both of Wisconsin, and Dianne Feinstein of California. With Republicans solidly in favor of Roberts and Democrats divided, his Senate confirmation was a political anticlimax. In an unusual move for a nomination that had been sharply challenged, Democrats ultimately allowed him to take his seat on the bench without insisting on a roll call on the Senate floor. Hatch, in a recent interview, said Democrats had done so to avoid requiring their rank and file to take a public position on a nominee who might later be named to the Supreme Court. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who was the party’s second-in-command at the time, referred questions on the subject to Leahy. Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for Leahy, said other appeals court nominees have been confirmed without roll call votes and noted that any one of the Senate’s 100 members could have demanded a roll call. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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