- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Federal Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. appears headed for confirmation to the Supreme Court this week with one of the narrowest Senate approvals in history.

Though Judge Alito hasn’t lost support from any Republicans, he has won endorsement from only one Democrat. Republicans say they expect the vote to be close to the 55-45 partisan break in the chamber.

Several centrist Democrats who voted to confirm Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and have been courted by the White House during the Alito confirmation process already said they will vote against Judge Alito. Those include Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

Republican leadership aides also say they are worried they may lose one of the Northeast Republicans who represent liberal states. Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, have declined to say how they will vote.

Those same centrists, however, have said that a Democrat filibuster of the nominee would be out of order.

Still, Democrat leaders insist, that option remains a possibility.

“Nothing is off the table,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said yesterday on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, seemed to almost relish the threat.

“Judge Alito has an outstanding record. He had the unanimous highest recommendation of the [American Bar Association]. He has 15 years as a circuit court judge,” said Mr. Allen, adding that “if the Democrats want to filibuster, let them. We’ll pull the constitutional trigger.”

Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has made clear that if Democrats filibuster Judge Alito, he will move to change the rules in the Senate to ban such filibusters of judicial nominations.

While Mr. Schumer, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the filibuster remains an option, he also seemed wary of going that route.

“A filibuster is a very large thing to do. It’s not done very often, and so you’ve got to give it a lot of thought,” he said. “There is no question many are disappointed in some of the answers that Samuel Alito gave, but to vote against him is one thing and to filibuster requires what I think is a much higher standard.”

Also yesterday, Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost the 2004 presidential election, said he will vote against confirmation.

He said he opposes Judge Alito, in part, because “he refuses even to go as far as John Roberts in affirming settled law,” an apparent reference to Chief Justice Roberts’ assertion that federal abortion rights are settled law.

Court observers say Chief Justice Roberts left himself plenty of room during his Supreme Court hearings to overturn abortion rights if given the opportunity.

A vote on Judge Alito by the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for tomorrow with debate on the floor to start Wednesday. A final vote is expected by next Tuesday.

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