Alito heads into Judiciary committee vote with first victory assured |

Alito heads into Judiciary committee vote with first victory assured

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito heads into the first vote of his high court candidacy with victory assured Tuesday in a Senate committee, but Democratic opponents are still working to dampen his support in the full Senate.The GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee is expected to advance the nomination of Alito – President Bush’s pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – on the strength of its 10 Republican senators. There are eight Democrats on the panel.All 10 Republicans – including chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee’s lone GOP abortion rights supporter – announced their support soon after Alito finished his confirmation hearings earlier this month. That guarantees he’ll have a positive recommendation from the panel when the Senate begins final debate Wednesday.”You don’t have to worry about him in the committee,” Bush said at Kansas State University on Monday. He called Alito “a very, very smart, capable man. When you talk to Sam Alito, you think, ‘smart judge.”‘Democrats agree that Alito is smart, but they are worried about how he will rule if confirmed.Half of the committee’s eight Democrats – Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California – have announced their opposition to his nomination. Many expect the others – Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both of Wisconsin, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Charles Schumer of New York to join them in opposition.In previous judicial battles, a 10-8 party line vote would be the first sign of the possibility of a Democratic-led filibuster. But Democrats are not expected to try one with Alito, a former federal prosecutor and lawyer for the Reagan administration.After the committee votes, Alito’s nomination goes to the full Senate for a final vote later this week. Republicans want Alito on the Supreme Court before Bush gives his State of the Union address on Jan. 31.Democrats are already considering whether to use Alito as a 2006 and 2008 campaign issue.”If he issues rulings as Sandra Day O’Connor did, it will be no issue at all,” Durbin told Fox News Sunday. “But if he goes to the court and comes forward with rulings such as we’ve seen from Justices Scalia and Thomas time and again, it will be an issue.”But Alito’s liberal critics plan to protest and march this week to try to turn votes against the 55-year-old judge who is now on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They fear his replacement of O’Connor will bring conservatives a decisive fifth vote on cases involving abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.Abortion-rights supporters held a rally on Sunday, urging the Senate to reject Alito’s nomination. They held a candlelight vigil in front of the court, waving signs that read: “Alito – No Justice For Women,” and “Keep Abortion Legal.”But few expect Alito’s opponents to be successful. Most, if not all, of the Senate’s 55 Republicans are expected to support Alito and most of the 44 Democrats to oppose him. Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont has not said how he will vote.Only one Democrat so far is supporting Alito, conservative Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts won the votes of 22 Democrats last year.By comparison, 11 Democrats broke with their party and voted for President George H.W. Bush’s nominee – Clarence Thomas – in 1991. Thomas’ 52-48 confirmation vote was the closest margin of success for a Supreme Court justice in the 20th century.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism