WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee Friday agreed on a quick start for Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy's confirmation hearings, despite sharp objections from several liberal interest groups.
The hearings will begin on Dec. 14 and end before Christmas, Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) announced after a series of meetings with committee members and White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. However, there will be no vote on the nomination until late January, after the Senate returns from its Christmas recess.
More Time Wanted
Liberal groups immediately objected to the hearing schedule, arguing that a mid-December starting date will not allow sufficient time to review Judge Kennedy's judicial opinions and personal record.
"That's terrible," objected Arthur Kropp, executive director of People for the American Way, one of the liberal groups that led opposition to the high court nomination of conservative Judge Robert H. Bork. The committee, Kropp said, had "caved in to White House pressure."
"Everything we know right now is really surface," he said. "I haven't spoken to anyone who has made an in-depth study."
Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said that "there's too much at stake for the Supreme Court and the nation" to justify rushing the hearings.
Five Days of Hearings
But Biden said: "They don't run the committee. I do." He predicted that Kennedy's hearings probably will take no more than four or five days, a sharp contrast to the three weeks that the committee spent considering Bork, who eventually was rejected by the Senate on a 58-42 vote.
No Position Taken
Neither People for the American Way nor the Leadership Conference has taken a position yet on Kennedy, whose nomination was announced Nov. 11.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said: "We're very pleased by Sen. Biden's scheduling of hearings. It is a very constructive approach and we appreciate his help in expediting the process."
The decision to begin hearings earlier than the January start that had been widely expected is a further indication that Senate Democrats are eager to find a high court nominee they can vote for and that they believe Kennedy probably fits the bill.
So far, no major issues have emerged that appear likely to block his confirmation. Kennedy is Reagan's third choice for the high court seat that Lewis F. Powell Jr. vacated last June. Of the major groups that opposed Bork, the first choice, only the National Organization for Women has come out in opposition to Kennedy. It says that his opinions as a federal judge and his former membership in all-male private clubs indicate that he is "a sexist."
Abortion Issue Cited
In addition, one national anti-abortion group, the American Life League, has said that it will oppose Kennedy because, in his opinions, he has cited the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which made abortions legal nationwide, and has not criticized it.
The hearing schedule reflects also one of the more mundane realities of Congress: The alternative to beginning the hearings in December would have been to start them in early January, while Congress would be on vacation, a prospect that drew wide opposition from Judiciary Committee members, staff aides said.