- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska yesterday became the first Democrat to announce that he will vote to confirm Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. as the 110th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“At this point in time, I take him for his word,” Mr. Nelson told CNN’s Ed Henry. “His pledge and commitment and strong judicial background is strong enough for me to vote for him.”

Later, Mr. Nelson’s office released a statement.

“I have decided to vote in favor of Judge Samuel Alito,” he said. “I came to this decision after careful consideration of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Association’s strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the court.”

Mr. Nelson is a member of the Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of senators who brokered a deal last year to end filibusters against President Bush’s lower-court nominees. Under that deal, Democrats agreed not to filibuster future nominees unless “extraordinary circumstances” arise.

In the case of Judge Alito, whose hearings were conducted last week, no such circumstances have arisen.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, both Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who questioned Judge Alito, said they don’t see ground for a filibuster. Neither is a member of the Gang of 14.

Without a filibuster, Judge Alito likely will be confirmed before the end of the month with the support of virtually all Republicans and a few Democrats from conservative states.

Mr. Nelson, who said in his statement that he “supported more than 215 of President Bush’s nominations to the federal bench,” is running for re-election in November in a conservative state that Mr. Bush won with 66 percent of the vote in 2004.

Democratic leaders, however, have not ruled out a filibuster. Senate Democrats will meet today to discuss the nomination.

Democrats succeeded in pushing back a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Alito’s nomination until next week, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, called on Democrats not to delay a confirmation that he described as inevitable.

“Despite these tactics, Judge Alito remains on track to be confirmed as Justice Alito,” Mr. Frist said yesterday. “A justice delayed will not be a justice denied.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said over the weekend that it is premature to suggest that Democrats will not filibuster the Alito nomination.

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