- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Democratic congresswomen yesterday said Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s failure to define abortion as a guaranteed right makes him unfit to sit on the Supreme Court, but senators said they are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We believe that Judge Alito poses a direct threat to the rights of women in America,” 20 House Democrats wrote in a letter urging senators to block President Bush’s nominee. House members have no formal role in confirming presidential nominees.

At issue is Judge Alito’s position on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that found a constitutional right to an abortion. The nominee wrote in 1985, while serving in the Reagan administration Justice Department prior to becoming a judge, that he did not believe the Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion and advocated that it be overturned.

Senators sought to have Judge Alito explain that position in this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. Unlike Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who during his hearings last year called Roe “settled law,” Judge Alito would only say it was precedent and all precedents should be given weight.

Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee were satisfied with that answer, but many committee Democrats and outside interest groups, who consider abortion rights sacrosanct, were not.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said his answers show Judge Alito would seek to overturn Roe if given the chance.

“I think he’s being evasive on purpose. I think he’s done nothing to distance himself from his prior writings and decisions,” she said.

Many senators who are not on the Judiciary Committee are traveling overseas or busy with home-state constituent work, but their aides said they will review hearing transcripts before they vote.

“I don’t know who the real Samuel Alito is or what his true views are,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, who has been watching the televised proceedings. “Is he just telling us what we want to hear? What is his judicial philosophy? What does he believe in — privacy, the right to executive power?”

Alex Glass, a spokeswoman for Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said Judge Alito’s comments on Roe were “clearly concerning, particularly in light of the stance John Roberts took” that Roe was settled law.

Still, Ms. Glass said it’s too early to decide how her boss will vote or whether the issue merits a filibuster.

Steve Hourihan, spokesman for Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican and a member of the “Gang of 14” senators who have agreed not to filibuster any judicial nominee without extraordinary reasons, said that from their vantage point, Judge Alito is not that far off from what Chief Justice Roberts said.

“Right now, he thinks there’s basically a lot more to come, and a finer point to put on it,” Mr. Hourihan said.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and another of the 14 senators involved in the no-filibuster deal, hasn’t had time to review the specific hearing questions, according to spokesman David DiMartino, but “he hasn’t seen anything that’s come up that would be problematic to the nominee.”

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