WASHINGTON -- With enthusiasm from Democrats and Republicans, a few reservations and no hesitation, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously yesterday to approve federal appeals Judge Stephen G. Breyer to be a Supreme Court justice.
The 18-0 vote sent President Clinton's nominee toward easy approval by the full Senate late this week or early next, as the successor to retiring Justice Harry A. Blackmun.
Praised by senators mainly for his moderation and his judicial pragmatism, the 55-year-old nominee appeared to have made real the White House expectation that he would get by without even a hint of a fight in an often-contentious committee.
Last week's four-day hearing, said committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, "came as close to my idea of a great hearing on a Supreme Court nominee: a hearing that we hold and no one shows up." He also noted with satisfaction that there was no "rancor of the kind visited on this process" in the past.
Senator after senator indicated that he had found in Judge Breyer's testimony last week just what he wanted to hear, even though some of those recollections of what he said flatly contradicted one another. For example, Republicans Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania disagreed on how far Judge Breyer would go as a justice to keep government from doing too much to aid religion.
Two members of the panel -- Ohio Democrat Howard M. Metzenbaum, a liberal, and Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley, a conservative -- said they had some doubts about whether Judge Breyer would satisfy them as a member of the highest court. But both did nothing to resist the nomination and said they held out hope that he would turn out better than they expected.