Thursday, November 10, 2005

Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. is within the mainstream of conservative judicial philosophy and should be confirmed barring some unforeseen “bombshell,” key Democrats said yesterday.

“I found him to be very impressive. I found him to be a very thoughtful person,” Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said after meeting with Judge Alito yesterday. “He got off to a very good start with me.”

Mr. Conrad said he does not expect to support a filibuster, which is likely the only way to thwart confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I think it is unlikely, absent some new information — some bombshell that comes up in the process — that I would support a filibuster,” he said, but added that he has not decided how he will vote on the nomination.

Mr. Conrad, who hails from a heavily Republican state and is among 22 Democrats who supported the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice, said Judge Alito’s apparent conservatism doesn’t disqualify him.

“Absolutely, he is conservative, but I believe in the broad mainstream of American jurisprudence,” the senator said. “It is healthy to have different views on the court.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a detractor of many of President Bush’s judicial nominees, sounded a similarly positive tone after his meeting with Judge Alito yesterday.

Mr. Schumer said the meeting was “very, very enjoyable” and described the nominee as “someone thoroughly schooled in the law, somebody who had thought through a lot of issues.”

The senator said it’s too early to say for certain whether Judge Alito is in the “broad mainstream of conservative jurisprudence” that Democrats say they want.

“I come out of this meeting with my questions not satisfied but certainly not with the view ‘Oh, he’s clearly out of the mainstream,’” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer also said that the judge told him he did not believe in “originalism,” a stance common among conservatives that the Constitution means what it originally was understood as meaning.

“Principles are applied differently in different times,” noted Mr. Schumer, saying he was loosely quoting Judge Alito. “I found that to be a positive thing that he said.”

As the nomination appeared headed for confirmation far more smoothly than many expected, Democrats yesterday drew attention to a 2002 case on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The defendant in the case was the Vanguard Group, an investment company that manages an account for Judge Alito.

Democrats say Judge Alito should have recused himself. After the apparent conflict was discovered, Judge Alito disagreed that it violated the canon of judicial ethics but wrote the chief judge “voluntarily recusing” himself.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday wrote the 3rd Circuit’s chief judge requesting all information on the case and Judge Alito’s involvement.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, advised Judge Alito to be ready to speak on the matter when the two meet privately next week. In his letter, Mr. Kennedy also reminded Judge Alito that he had promised to recuse himself from cases involving Vanguard when he was confirmed to the appeals court in 1990.

Republicans have downplayed the significance of the Vanguard matter, saying the conflict is convoluted and that Judge Alito’s involvement wasn’t determinative.

Judge Alito told senators yesterday that it was an oversight on his part and blamed a “glitch” in the court’s computer system for not flagging the conflict.

Mr. Conrad said Judge Alito seemed to “regret” the whole situation. And although the matter “troubles” him, Mr. Conrad said, it does not “unduly concern” him.

Meanwhile, another centrist Democrat said yesterday that he doubts Judge Alito will be filibustered.

“My own sense from my colleagues is that a filibuster is not likely,” Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado told reporters. “But I would say that … we are at the beginning of the process. There is still a lot of information that needs to be made available.”

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