Alito accepts GOP congratulations as Senate moves toward his confirmation
WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito took a victory lap in the Senate on Wednesday, accepting congratulations from Republican leaders as lawmakers moved toward confirming him in a largely party-line vote.A few hours after the final confirmation debate began, Alito met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter in a U.S. Capitol room that directly faces the neighboring Supreme Court.The conservative judge shook their hands and joked with the Republican leaders and thanked them for their efforts as senators debated his nomination on the Senate floor. Alito, who had met privately with more than 80 senators since his October nomination, thanked “all of the senators who supported me and were kind enough to meet with me.”The New Jersey jurist was chosen by President Bush to be the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”I call on the United States Senate to put partisanship aside and give Judge Alito the up-or-down vote he deserves,” Bush said at the White House, “and confirm him as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.”Alito has enough support from 51 Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska to assure his confirmation.The rest of the chamber’s Democrats showed little interest in a filibuster, and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu said she would vote against the delaying tactic, calling it “very, very counterproductive.”The 100-member Senate is expected to confirm Alito with a majority vote before Bush’s State of the Union address Jan. 31.”We’re on the final leg,” Frist, R-Tenn., assured Alito before congratulating the 55-year-old judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.The Judiciary Committee advanced Alito’s nomination Tuesday on a party-line vote, with all the Republicans voting for him and all the Democrats voting against him. He is not the first Supreme Court justice to get a partisan vote. Justice Louis Brandeis, who served on the court from 1916-41, also was voted out of committee along party lines.Alito also may be on his way to the most partisan Senate victory for a Supreme Court nominee in years. The closest vote in modern history is Justice Clarence Thomas’ 52-48 victory in 1991, when 11 Democrats broke with their party and voted for President George H.W. Bush’s nominee.The Democratic caucus split on conservative Chief Justice John Roberts last year, 22 voting for him and 22 against. But liberals are working to get a large opposition vote to score points against Bush and rally their supporters for November’s midterm elections.Twenty-three Democrats already have announced they are voting against Alito, with Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Hillary Clinton of New York making their decisions public Wednesday.”When I voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, I said I was choosing hope instead of fear and that Judge Roberts through his answers inspired such hope,” Murray said in a Senate speech. “Judge Alito – through his writings, rulings and non-answers – does not inspire confidence in me that he will protect all our rights.”They argue that putting Alito on the court in place of O’Connor, who was a swing vote on many contentious social issues including abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty, would put people’s rights and liberties in danger. Issues such as the Bush administration’s treatment of terror suspects and its domestic spying program are likely to come before the court.”I worry … he will tip the balance of the scales of justice,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “He will tip the balance against protecting our basic privacy and personal freedoms. He will tip the balance in favor of presidential power even when it violates the law.”Four Republicans, 20 Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont were still publicly undecided Wednesday or refused to say how they would vote. Murray and Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia met with Alito on Wednesday, but Rockefeller did not announce how he would vote.Specter, R-Pa., an abortion rights moderate, said part of the reasoning for his vote for Alito was to ensure that the judge’s support crosses ideological lines when it comes to abortion.”I think it is important for Judge Alito to have supporters who favor a woman’s right to choose, so that he does not feel in any way beholden to or confirmed by people who have one idea on some of these questions,” said Specter, who has been criticized by abortion rights supporters for backing Alito.With Alito nearing confirmation, the White House made its first lower court nominations of the year.The list included:- Lawyer Michael Chagares nominated to Alito’s current court in Philadelphia.- Noel Hillman, a Justice Department prosecutor in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe, for a trial court seat in New Jersey.- The renomination of White House staff secretary Brett Kavanaugh for U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate still has not voted on his 2003 nomination.Vail, Colorado
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