Thursday, January 12, 2006

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. yesterday appeared headed for confirmation to the Supreme Court after Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats exhausted their arsenal of questions without landing any devastating blows.

“It is clear to me that Judge Alito should be confirmed,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the committee. “And he will be confirmed.”

Although Democrats on the committee seemed unified in their opposition to Judge Alito, a filibuster does not appear to be in the offing.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and a member of the panel, told reporters that Judge Alito is “very bright and very conservative.”

Mr. Biden added that although he probably will vote against him, “I think he is going to be confirmed.”

“I don’t see anything that indicates” a filibuster, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said on CNN. “At this stage, I don’t see anything that really indicates a filibuster.”

Like other Democrats, Mrs. Feinstein warned that the sentiments of her caucus could change.

“We can only afford to lose five senators favoring Judge Alito before a filibuster is impossible,” said Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “It’s a very tight margin, and I’m not going to presume one way or the other whether my colleagues are even interested.”

The Judiciary vote, expected to be a 10-8 party-line vote, is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, with a target of next Friday for a final floor vote.

Minority Leader Harry Reid said after Judge Alito completed his testimony yesterday that Democrats would meet next week to discuss a strategy.

“Democrats on the committee did their jobs by asking tough questions about important issues: civil rights, privacy, environmental protections, the danger of unchecked presidential power and others,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Unfortunately, Judge Alito’s responses did little to address my serious concerns about his 15-year judicial record.”

Although committee Chairman Arlen Specter hopes for a committee vote Tuesday, panel Democrats haven’t said for certain that they will forgo their right to hold over the nominee for one week.

As it stands, Judge Alito appears likely to win the votes of all Republicans on the committee. Virtually all the Democrats on the panel have indicated — either to reporters or in their questioning of Judge Alito — that they will vote against the nomination. The only Democrat still subject to speculation about his vote is Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who broke ranks to vote in favor of the nomination of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Judge Alito’s confirmation appeared to pass its last major hurdle early yesterday morning, when Senate lawyers came up empty-handed after reviewing four boxes of materials pertaining to Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group Democrats say is misogynist and bigoted.

All week, Democrats had grilled Judge Alito about his membership in the defunct group, which was formed to oppose the admission of women at the university.

In the final hours of Judge Alito’s testimony, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy demanded in a dramatic exchange with Mr. Specter that more records about the group be subpoenaed.

Democratic staffers, meanwhile, whispered to reporters that the records contained plenty Republicans wouldn’t want revealed about their nominee.

But instead of resisting Mr. Kennedy’s request, Mr. Specter sided with it but secured the records without all the drama of a congressional subpoena. They were housed in the Library of Congress just across the street.

By the time the hearings reconvened, the issue of Judge Alito’s membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton had all but evaporated.

“Judge Alito’s name never appeared in any document,” Mr. Specter said at the start of yesterday’s hearings.

Throughout his testimony, Judge Alito disavowed a magazine published by the group that contained essays pejorative of women and minorities. He said he had no recollection of joining the group and assumed that he must have done so after his ROTC program was kicked off Princeton’s campus, a move opposed by the group.

The group records that Mr. Kennedy had wanted to subpoena included canceled checks for magazine subscriptions, but none from Judge Alito. It also contained lists of board directors and contributors.

“The files contain minutes and attendance records from CAP meetings in 1983 and 1984 — just before Samuel Alito listed the organization on his job application — but Samuel Alito did not attend any of those meetings,” Mr. Specter said. “He’s not even mentioned in the minutes.”

From that point forward, the issue had lost all momentum. When Mr. Kennedy raised one final time yesterday, it was almost by way of a compliment.

“I was pleased that Judge Alito distanced himself from its repulsive, anti-woman, anti-black, anti-disability, anti-gay pronouncements,” he said.

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