WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said today that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy will start Dec. 14, a move that angered liberal organizations seeking more time to study his record.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and the ranking committee Republican, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, announced the timetable at a news conference and said the White House was in agreement.
The committee will not vote on the nomination until after the Senate returns from recess Jan. 19. Floor debate could begin shortly afterward, Biden said.
Asked about the pleas of civil rights and women's groups for more time before the hearings start, Biden responded: "They do not run the committee. I do."
Biden said the panel could do "a thorough job" with the announced schedule, and pointed out that there could be at least six weeks between the hearings and a committee vote, during which new information could be submitted.
"We will make our best effort to complete these hearings in December, before the Senate adjourns for the year," Biden said.
"That's terrible," Arthur Kropp, executive director of People for the American Way, said when he learned of the hearing date. The liberal activist organization helped lead the fight against defeated Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.
"I think it's a real mistake. The process shouldn't be rushed through. Everything we know right now is really surface. We haven't spoken to anyone who has made an in-depth study. It doesn't look like it will happen with this date," Kropp said.
Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, called the decision "surprising and disappointing."
"There was an understandable temptation, after the Bork and (Douglas H.) Ginsburg nominations, for senators to declare victory and rush toward hearings. The nation deserves much more," Neas said.