Mikulski becomes 4th vote against Souter


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., announced yesterday that she would vote against the nomination of Judge David H. Souter to the Supreme Court, saying the New Hampshire jurist's silence on abortion and other issues that affect women "is simply not acceptable."

"To put it quite simply, Judge Souter refused to talk about whether, and how, the Constitution protects the women of America," the Maryland senator said. Ms. Mikulski became the ++ fourth senator to announce opposition to President Bush's first nominee to the high court.

"Judge Souter's refusal to discuss the status of women under the Constitution stands in stark and disappointing contrast to his otherwise comprehensive discourse on the Constitution," she said during a speech on the Senate floor.

Besides Ms. Mikulski, Sens. Bill Bradley and Frank R. Lautenberg, both Democrats from New Jersey, said yesterday that they would oppose the Souter nomination because of the judge's refusal to endorse the right to abortion.

Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., on Monday became the first senator to say he would vote against Judge Souter.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Judge Souter's nomination today.

No members of that panel have said they will oppose Souter, and seven of the 14 members have said they will support him. Most observers believe Judge Souter will win confirmation from the full Senate.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., is still studying the committee report and has yet to decide how he will vote on the nomination, an aide said.

Ms. Mikulski noted that although Judge Souter discussed his views on the death penalty and freedom of religion before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he bypassed other issues of concern to women.

"He refused to discuss how the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law protects women against gender discrimination in the workplace or the schoolhouse," she said. "He refused to discuss how the fundamental right to privacy, so central to our system of limited government, protects a woman's right to decide whether and if to bear children.

"I respectfully submit that it is simply not acceptable for a nominee to the Supreme Court to refuse to disclose his views on equal protection against gender discrimination and the right to privacy," she said. "I must, therefore, oppose the confirmation of Judge Souter to the Supreme Court."

During his three days before the Senate committee, Judge Souter, 51, declined to reveal his views on abortion as a constitutional or moral question, saying that since the divisive issue likely would come before the court, he did not want to "mislead" anyone about how he would tackle it.

Still, he told the Senate committee that he supports an active role for the Supreme Court in protecting individual rights, particularly the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection, although he was not specific.

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