Monday, January 16, 2006

A key Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday that she will not support filibustering the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., although she will oppose his confirmation.

“I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and often a swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I don’t see those kinds of egregious things emerging that would justify a filibuster.”

Mrs. Feinstein said a filibuster against Judge Alito would be an abuse of the parliamentary tool.

“When it comes to filibustering a Supreme Court appointment, you really have to have something out there, whether it’s gross moral turpitude or something that comes to the surface,” she said yesterday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“This is a man I might disagree with,” she said of Judge Alito. “That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on the court.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and member of the committee, warned that Democrats will hurt themselves politically if they try to block the Alito nomination.

“If there is a filibuster of this man based on qualifications, there’d be a huge backlash in this country,” he said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.” “The record rejects a filibuster; that would not be advising and consenting. That would be hijacking the election.”

Mr. Graham was one of seven Republicans who joined seven Democrats — collectively known as the “Gang of 14” — in striking a deal on judicial nominees in May. The Democrats vowed to oppose filibusters and support an up-or-down floor vote on all judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has been a chief architect of the filibusters, said party leaders have not ruled out a filibuster.

“It’s premature to say anything until we fully assess the record,” he said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Democrats would have a difficult time pulling off a filibuster if they tried one. Already, Republicans have at least 57 of the 60 votes they would need to end a filibuster.

In addition to Mrs. Feinstein, Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, has said he sees no justification for a filibuster. Mrs. Feinstein was not one of the Gang of 14; Mr. Nelson was. All 55 Senate Republicans, including the three New England liberals among the “Gang of 14,” are expected to oppose a filibuster.

Originally, Democrats had agreed to a vote tomorrow by the Judiciary Committee on the Alito nomination. They changed their minds last week, however, and now want to delay that vote for at least several days.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has said his party wants to meet Wednesday before deciding whether to filibuster the Alito nomination.

Mrs. Feinstein, who also voted against the nomination of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said she opposes Judge Alito because, she thinks, he opposes the Roe v. Wade decision that declared abortion a constitutional right and gives too much deference to presidential power.

“These are big issues,” she said. “If you asked me who would Alito most be like, it would probably be, I’d have to say, [Justice Antonin] Scalia.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said yesterday that he’s not sure Judge Alito would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I believe that he has given strong assurances of his reliance on precedents,” Mr. Specter, who is pro-choice, said on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday. “He has left latitude to make a decision, as he must, without making a firm commitment.”

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