The Senate will not conduct Supreme Court confirmation hearings for federal Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. until next year, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter announced yesterday.
A final confirmation vote by the full Senate is scheduled tentatively for Jan. 20, making it the longest confirmation process since that of Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.
Mr. Specter’s timetable envisions five days of hearings before the judiciary panel, starting Jan. 9, followed by a committee vote on Jan. 17.
“The White House wanted [Judge Alito’s confirmation] before Christmas,” Mr. Specter said yesterday. “It just couldn’t be done. We have to do it right; we can’t do it fast.”
Although the White House had sought a faster schedule, spokesman Steve Schmidt said the administration had “great confidence in Chairman Specter to manage the extremely complicated process of moving a nominee to the Supreme Court through the U.S. Senate.”
But based on comments yesterday by centrist Democrats, Judge Alito does not appear headed toward bitter hearings like Justice Thomas.
“He certainly got it off to a good start,” Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, said yesterday after meeting with Judge Alito. Mr. Pryor is among the “Gang of 14” who can determine whether the “extraordinary circumstances” exist that warrant a filibuster against a nominee.
“I don’t see any extraordinary circumstances,” Mr. Pryor said. “I don’t expect any. But then again, things can change rather quickly, and I’ll continue to be looking for those.”
That group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans who crafted a deal in May to break the Democratic filibusters against President Bush’s appeals-court nominees met yesterday morning for the first time since Judge Alito’s nomination on Monday.
“No, I don’t see anything,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and Gang of 14 member, said after the meeting. “Well, I see some things today that raise questions in my mind about opinions he’s written, but they’re questions.”
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and group member, also met with Judge Alito yesterday.
“Overall, I was very impressed with his intellect, with respect to the powers of the branches of government, the law and the Constitution,” he told reporters afterward. “He’s certainly well-fitted in that regard for the Supreme Court. But I want to hear more; I want to read more.”
Other Democrats say they do not need to hear any more to make up their minds. At least one senator — Tom Harkin of Iowa — and many liberal supporters have said Judge Alito should be blocked.
Among them are a group of female House Democrats who gathered yesterday on the front steps of the Supreme Court to condemn Judge Alito as a radical from a different century for his opinion in a pivotal abortion case.
“Judge Alito’s views are not only out of the mainstream; I would characterize them as radical,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a senior Democrat from New York. “His nomination literally tips the scales of justice against women on this court.”
Polls show that more than 70 percent of Americans agree with Judge Alito’s opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey defending a Pennsylvania law that required a married woman to notify her husband before having an abortion.
“You talk about being out of the mainstream; these ladies are the sisters of doom,” said Connie Mackey, vice president of the conservative Family Research Center. “They are completely outside the mainstream.”
Mrs. Slaughter said Judge Alito is a “clear and present danger to the rights of women in America.”
“He has also argued that the state effectively has the right to give a man control over his wife,” she said. “He argued that before a married woman can have an abortion, she must notify her spouse.”
Mrs. Slaughter and other women in the House claimed that Judge Alito argued that a woman must obtain “permission” from her husband before getting an abortion, even if he has abused her or deserted her. The Pennsylvania law that Judge Alito defended contained exceptions for those very circumstances.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, said the nominee’s opinion about spousal notification “takes us right back to the 1950s.”
“It’s not ‘Leave It to Beaver’ anymore,” said Mrs. Slaughter, referring to a 1950s television show. “This man’s thinking goes back — well, I don’t know — way back into the 20th century, but maybe to the 19th.”