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'Gang of 14' members cast doubt on court stalemate

Poll: Americans seek more information about high court nominee

Judge John Roberts Jr., left, meets with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, on Wednesday.




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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three members of the Senate's "Gang of 14" are downplaying the possibility of a Democratic filibuster to block the nomination of Judge John Roberts Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was among those Wednesday expressing support for Roberts, calling himself a "card-carrying member of the Gang of 14."

McCain was referring to the bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers who helped the Senate avoid a showdown in May over some of President Bush's appellate court nominees.

The 14 agreed to limit their support of filibusters to what they termed "extraordinary circumstances," derailing any GOP move to use the "nuclear option" and change Senate rules to prevent the tactic. (Full story)

"I think that Judge Roberts deserves an up-or-down vote," McCain said.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, who also was involved with the compromise, said that he had not heard any talk of a filibuster on Roberts' nomination. "It's still new, but I'm not hearing it," Nelson said.

Another of those lawmakers -- Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia -- said he didn't believe anything in Roberts' case would be considered "extraordinary."

"This man has the right stuff and will do the right thing for America," Warner said.

Bush on Tuesday announced the nomination of Roberts, 50, a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a frequent swing vote on the high court who is retiring. (Full story)

Still one Democrat left open the possibility of a filibuster, citing initial concerns over issues such as abortion. (Abortion a key issue)

"Everything has to be on the table because we have to do our work," said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. "A filibuster is on the table. Hopefully, we don't have to use it."

Roberts will make courtesy calls on top lawmakers Thursday. On Wednesday, he met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and other leading Republicans to discuss his confirmation hearings. He later sat down with their Democratic counterparts.

"I appreciate and respect the constitutional role of the Senate in the appointment process, and I'm very grateful to the senators for accommodating me," Roberts said.

Among those scheduled to meet with Roberts on Thursday will be Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, who has voiced reservations about the nomination and who voted against Roberts' appointment to the appellate court in 2003.

The Senate Judiciary Committee likely will begin confirmation hearings after Labor Day.

Republicans welcomed the selection of a nominee with a solid conservative record, with Frist calling him "the best of the best legal minds in America."

Many Democrats said they were withholding judgment until they could examine Roberts' record and hear him testify.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted Wednesday found that Americans are taking a cautious approach, with more than three-fourths of respondents saying they need to learn more about Roberts before deciding whether to support him. (Full story)

Democrats urge openness

Since his appellate appointment two years ago, Roberts has authored 60 opinions.

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said each of those decisions would be studied thoroughly during "full, fair, and complete" hearings. (Conservative credentials)

"I like everything that I have seen about Judge Roberts, but I think it is very important to have the hearings and listen to him before judgment is made," said Specter, R-Pennsylvania.

Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Roberts was unlikely to give extensive answers to questions that might reveal his opinions on cases that could come before the court.

"Senators can ask any questions they want, but these justice nominees really don't have to answer them," said Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he had "an interesting and a good meeting" with Roberts, urging the nominee "to be open about every question."

Earlier, Leahy said the Senate must ensure people who get lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court will protect the liberties of all Americans.

"Preliminary views of Judge Roberts' record suggest areas of significant concern," Leahy said.

Schumer, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, said Roberts needs to answer more questions than he did in his 2003 confirmation hearings.

Fred Thompson, a former Republican senator from Tennessee who Bush selected to help usher Roberts' nomination through the Senate, said his old colleagues have "a right and duty to ask tough questions."

But Roberts "will not be prejudging any cases before the committee or anywhere else," Thompson added.

The nominee has argued 39 cases in front of the Supreme Court as a private attorney and deputy solicitor general during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, the president's father. (Interactive: Bio)

He was a law clerk for Justice William Rehnquist, an assistant White House counsel in the Reagan administration and a legal adviser to the Bush campaign during the 2000 Florida recount. (Profile)

CNN's Ed Henry and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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