- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Federal Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. told senators yesterday that he has great respect for Supreme Court precedent, which some suggested meant he would be reluctant to reverse federal abortion rights.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, met privately with the Supreme Court nominee and asked him about the importance of precedent, such as Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case guaranteeing abortion rights.

Mr. Lieberman said that Judge Alito replied: “Roe was a precedent on which people — a lot of people — relied, and had been precedent now for decades and therefore deserved great respect.”

Judge Alito went further in a conversation with Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

“He assured me that he has tremendous respect for precedent and that his approach is to not overturn cases due to disagreement with how they were originally decided,” she said after an hourlong meeting with the nominee.

“Public expectations” would play into any decision by Judge Alito to overturn long-standing precedent, Miss Collins said.

Mr. Lieberman said Judge Alito described himself as a “judicial traditionalist.”

Mr. Lieberman and Miss Collins are members of the so-called “Gang of 14” senators who will determine whether a judicial nominee is filibustered. The seven Democrats and seven Republicans agreed earlier this year to permit such filibusters only under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Judge Alito appears increasingly likely to be confirmed without a filibuster.

“At this point, I see no reason to invoke ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ or for anyone to mount a filibuster,” Miss Collins said.

“I found the judge to be very straightforward and direct in answering my questions,” she said. “He clearly has an impressive background and the legal credentials for the job, and today I got a far better sense of his judicial philosophy.”

“We had a good exchange,” said Mr. Lieberman, who called Judge Alito a “learned man” and an “impressive person.”

He said that in reading Judge Alito’s many dissents, “you don’t find ideology screaming off the page.”

Still, Mr. Lieberman added, “I’m in no rush to make a judgment about this nomination.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats continued to weigh in on the nomination even though they have no vote on the matter. Like several outside liberal groups, some Democrats say Judge Alito must be stopped.

The Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement this week expressing its discomfort with efforts by the Gang of 14 to avoid a filibuster.

“Senators who value the racial progress our country has made over the last 50 years should certainly be concerned, as the members of the CBC are, about Judge Alito’s opinions,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and caucus chairman.

Many of the opinions reviewed by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative who chairs the Judicial Nominations Task Force, show Judge Alito dissenting in race cases and other matters affecting equal rights, access to the federal courts and decisions that have disproportionately affected blacks, Mr. Watt said.

The two have requested a meeting with Judge Alito to discuss his views and explain his opinions.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and the lone Black Caucus member who will have a vote on the nomination, said any talk about Judge Alito’s presumed confirmation should wait until he has a hearing.

“It is way too early for those who oppose or support Judge Alito to be making definitive statements,” he said.

Staff writer Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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