Senate Democrats yesterday moved to stall the increasingly inevitable confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr., despite a good-faith understanding not to do so.
Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said panel Democrats did not want to vote Tuesday, as per a November agreement with Republicans, citing Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.
“I have been told that a number of our members are going to be home for Martin Luther King events this weekend, will not be back on time on Tuesday, and so they will exercise their rights,” Mr. Leahy said yesterday.
Mr. Leahy did not mention any “extraordinary” circumstances that under the agreement he reached with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, would have allowed a vote schedule change. The deal also calls for a full Senate vote on the nominee Friday.
As the five days of hearings concluded yesterday, Mr. Specter announced he would support Judge Alito and said it was time to move ahead with his nomination.
“There’s no reason to have a delay,” he told reporters after the hearing. “I think everybody knows where the committee members are going to vote, and we ought to move ahead and conduct the business of the Congress, the Senate, the people, and get it done.”
Mr. Specter produced the transcript from the November press conference he and Mr. Leahy held announcing the schedule of the Alito hearings. With Mr. Leahy sitting next to him, Mr. Specter read the pertinent passages.
The agreement “leaves room if something extraordinary comes up that neither, frankly, neither Senator Specter nor I anticipate or expect,” Mr. Leahy said at November press conference. He added that he had consulted with all the Democrats on the committee as well as Minority Leader Harry Reid regarding the schedule. “No one objected.”
It is widely expected that Judge Alito will win the approval of all 10 Republicans on the panel but not the backing of its eight Democrats. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin is the only Democrat on the committee who appeared undecided while questioning the nominee.
Yesterday was consumed by three final panels speaking about Judge Alito and speculating about the effect he would have on the high court.
Many endorsed him.
Abortion rights activist Kate Michelman, however, warned against confirming him.
“I have been involved in many Supreme Court nominations but, frankly, none more important than this one, nor as dangerous,” she said, noting that Judge Alito would be replacing pro-choice Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
After her testimony, Ms. Michelman said there is “no question that Judge Alito will take away a woman’s right to choose.”
But the hearings are over and now she is focused on lobbying for a filibuster.
“We’ve got work to do,” Ms. Michelman said. “We want to make clear to senators that the filibuster must be employed if that’s all we have left.”
At least one Democrat — and a member of the “Gang of 14” that broke last year’s filibuster — has indicated he will support the nomination.
“So far I have seen nothing during my interview with the nominee, the background materials that have been produced, or through the committee process that I would consider a disqualifying issue against Judge Alito,” said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Yesterday, Mr. Specter was in no mood to consider postponing Tuesday’s vote.
But what if Democrats agree to an up-or-down vote without a filibuster in exchange for delaying the committee vote, Mr. Specter was asked.
“Well, when you use the magic words ‘up or down,’ I might be willing to listen,” he said.