WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously and with obvious enthusiasm yesterday to approve the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 60, setting the stage for a final Senate vote next week.
With repeated expressions of relief that the committee did not have a fight before acting on a Supreme Court nominee, the panel spent most of its 93-minute public meeting praising President Clinton's first nominee. As is customary, the nominee was not in the meeting room.
Sen. Howell Heflin, a Democrat from Alabama, said the nominee had won such high praise from commentators of "every political stripe" that "it started my head spinning."
Only a few senators expressed "reservations" yesterday, primarily because Judge Ginsburg had refused to answer many questions during three days of televised hearings last week.
GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said the "accolades" for the nominee before the hearings had led Judge Ginsburg to decide she could answer fewer questions without getting into trouble. "The committee itself is significantly responsible for that," he said.
The judge, a heroine of the women's rights movement as a pioneering lawyer and for the last 13 years a moderate federal appeals judge, told the committee explicitly that she favors abortion rights and the adoption of an Equal Rights Amendment, but she refused to offer her views on the death penalty or on a wide variety of other legal topics.
However, the committee put any doubts aside yesterday. So eager was the panel to act, and to let its members move on to other Senate business, it cast its oral vote after only 10 of the 18 members had spoken. As Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced the final 18-0 vote, he remarked: "Thank the Lord!" The other eight senators then added their praise for Judge Ginsburg.
After the committee session, Mr. Biden said he hopes the full Senate would vote next week, probably no later than Thursday, and added that he hopes the vote would be unanimous. He said Senate leaders want final action "as quickly as possible" on a replacement for retired Justice Byron R. White.
Judge Ginsburg can begin to review cases due to come up in the new Supreme Court term, but she is not expected to be sworn in formally until the court returns in October from its summer recess.
Yesterday's Judiciary Committee meeting, with senator after senator congratulating committee leaders for handling a Supreme Court nomination without controversy, was in marked contrast to the open and angry battle waged two years ago when the last nominee -- Justice Clarence Thomas -- was before the panel. During those hearings, Mr. Thomas was accused by Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill of sexually harassing her when she worked for him in the federal government.