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Alito Leaves Door Open to Reversing 'Roe'

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, left, speaks to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a break at the confirmation hearings for Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, left, speaks to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a break at the confirmation hearings for Samuel A. Alito Jr. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

"It was one sentence," Alito replied. "And it certainly is not an attempt to set out a comprehensive view on the subject."

The day's most sizzling exchanges involved Alito's assertion, in the same job application, that he had belonged to Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that at that time had rallied conservatives and drawn considerable public notice.

Alito told the committee he does not remember joining the now-defunct group -- founded in 1972, the year he graduated from Princeton University -- and does not know anything about it. Democrats challenged him sharply, wondering aloud if he used the club to impress Reagan conservatives but now wants to distance himself from its outspoken opposition to efforts that brought more women and minorities to Princeton.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), said Alito's forgetfulness seemed too convenient. "If he didn't know what they stood for, he had to be about the only person in America who didn't know what they stood for," Leahy said.

At midday, Kennedy employed large blue charts showing quotes from articles published in the group's magazine, Prospect. "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place," a November 1983 article said. "Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic. . . . Homosexuals are demanding the government vouchsafe them the right to bear children. . . . And now come women."

Alito said he had read none of the articles, adding, "I would not have anything to do with statements of that nature."

Kennedy then called on Specter to subpoena records on the alumni group held in the Library of Congress. Noting that the group had received significant press coverage, Kennedy said the records might show Alito was more involved than he has acknowledged.

Kennedy said Specter had ignored his letter to him last month seeking the documents. The chairman retorted that he had never seen it. "I take umbrage at your telling me what I received," he said. When Kennedy persisted, Specter snapped, "I'm not going to have you run this committee."

Their quarrel cooled after Democratic and Republican staff members went to the Library of Congress to review the documents. But emotions rose again in the late afternoon when Alito's wife, Martha, clutching a tissue, raced to the back of the hearing room in tears, then was ushered by security guards through a side door, after debate over the alumni group resumed.

She left during an exchange in which Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an Alito supporter, played devil's advocate by summarizing the Democrats' attacks. He asked Alito, "Are you really a closet bigot?"

"I'm not any kind of bigot. I'm not," Alito said.

Graham told Alito he believed him because of "the way you have lived your life and the way you and your wife are raising your children" and, referring to the Democrats' criticisms, said, "I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this." At that point, Martha Alito rose and left her front-row chair immediately behind her husband, returning about an hour later.

On other issues, Alito told Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that some judges have gone too far in trying to remove religious activities from public life. He cited public school teachers who refused to let children read a short Bible story or display a hand-drawn picture of Jesus. "You have to treat religious speech equally with secular speech," Alito said.

Later, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said that, as an appeals court judge, Alito had seldom sided with immigrants who were trying to win asylum or block deportation. Alito replied that he was following Congress's clear-cut laws on immigration policy.

"My role is not to substitute my judgment for that of the immigration judge," he said. "My job is to say, 'Could a reasonable person have reached the conclusion that the immigration judge did?' "

As Democrats tried to pry loose Alito's views on abortion, a group supporting abortion rights, Republican Majority for Choice, announced it is opposing his nomination. Five GOP senators are on its advisory committee, including Specter.

Asked about the group's stance, Specter, who has said he will not decide how he will vote until after the hearings, said: "I did not participate in their decision."

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