- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. yesterday in a party-line vote, but Democrats refused to rule out a filibuster to block the jurist’s confirmation.

After the committee’s 10-8 vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid declined to reveal whether he will lead a filibuster against Judge Alito as liberal lobbyists are demanding, only saying that he opposes President Bush’s nominee to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

With commitments of support from 51 senators, Judge Alito has the majority needed for confirmation but remains below the 60-vote threshold needed to guarantee a full-floor vote and prevent a filibuster. Recent Democratic filibusters of nominees to the federal bench all began with a party-line vote by the Senate committee.

“There is a storm cloud on the horizon,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Observers on both sides of the aisle, however, say they doubt Democrats really have the stomach for a high-profile filibuster. For instance, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week that she would not support a filibuster.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said it would be bad for the country to turn the judicial-nominations process into a litmus test on raw political issues such as abortion. And, he said, if Democrats insist, they’ll regret it.

“I’ll just tell you right now we welcome that debate on our side,” Mr. Graham said. “We’ll clean your clock. I mean, Judge Alito is closer to the mainstream of America than [liberal lobbyists People] for the American Way. We’ll win that debate, but the judiciary will lose if we continue to do this.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, warned Democrats that Americans overwhelmingly side with Republicans on many of the hot-button political issues before the court, such as so-called “partial-birth abortion,” homosexual “marriage” and keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Yesterday’s committee meeting, however, provided no real drama. The only member whose vote remained in question beforehand was that of Sen. Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat who voted in favor of confirming Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

“I fear that a Justice Alito will narrow our rights, limit our freedoms and overturn decades of progress,” Mr. Kohl said. “To confirm Judge Alito to the Supreme Court would be to gamble with our liberties, a bet I fear the Constitution and the American people would lose.”

Mr. Kohl was among other committee Democrats who echoed warnings by Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who said Judge Alito “refuses to enforce core constitutional standards protecting individuals against low-level government officials in routine situations.”

One issue that dominated the hearings earlier this month — accusations of ethical lapses by Judge Alito — have all but evaporated as the full Senate plans to begin debating the Alito nomination first thing this morning. Debate is expected to last until Friday.

During the hearings, Judge Alito was asked 113 questions about ethics and his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which had formed in opposition to the admission of women to the university. That number was surpassed only by the 120 questions asked about presidential authority, according to a Republican tally.

Yesterday, Judge Alito’s membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton never was mentioned, and his belated recusal from the case involving Vanguard Group Inc. was referenced only once.

Senators spent more time talking about abortion rights.

“If one is pro-choice in this day and age, in this structure, one can’t vote for Judge Alito,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “It is simply that simple.”

She said Judge Alito refused to say that federal abortion rights are settled. He did not, Mrs. Feinstein said, go as far as Justice Roberts, whom she also voted against, citing fears that he would undo the federal abortion-rights guarantee.

Democrats also said Judge Alito too often sides with big corporate or government interests against the “little guy.”

But Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said their concern is hollow as long as they support abortion rights.

“I think about the most vulnerable little guy in this world, which is the unborn child, which we attain no liberty for in this country any longer,” he said. “And how can we claim to be for the little guy and ignore that little guy?”

Mr. Graham said he did not recognize the caricature of Judge Alito that Democrats described during yesterday’s meeting.

“It’s amazing he would even be considered for nomination,” he joked. “He should be under house arrest.”

Mr. Cornyn, at one point, held aloft a magazine with Judge Alito’s wife, in tears, on the cover and said they had overplayed their hand in attacking the nominee.

Fifty of 55 Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska have committed publicly to vote for Judge Alito, giving him the 51 votes needed for confirmation, according to interviews with The Washington Times or the Associated Press or from press releases.

Twenty Democrats publicly are opposing Judge Alito, and 23 others still are undecided publicly.

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island; Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine; and Ted Stevens of Alaska have not publicly committed to vote for Judge Alito.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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