Alito Likely To Become A Justice

The Judiciary Committee could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to recommend Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to the full Senate.
The Judiciary Committee could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to recommend Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to the full Senate. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Charles Babington and Jo Becker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 13, 2006

Samuel A. Alito Jr., an appellate judge who could shift the Supreme Court significantly to the right, appeared headed for the high court yesterday after completing three days of interrogation without a serious misstep.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee made a final stab at challenging Alito on presidential powers, the death penalty and other matters. But their efforts sometimes seemed halfhearted, and even the most liberal advocacy groups acknowledged privately that they saw slim hopes of preventing his confirmation later this month in the full Senate, where Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats.

President Bush called Alito from Air Force One "to congratulate him for doing a great job during the hearings," the White House said. Committee member John Cornyn (R-Tex.) predicted the nominee "will be confirmed," adding that "the unfounded attacks on Judge Alito had about as much traction as bald tires on an icy road."

When the hearings began Monday, liberal activists said their best hope was for Alito to commit a gaffe or lose his composure. When his 18 hours of testimony ended at lunchtime yesterday, and Republican senators scurried to shake his hand, both sides agreed he had done neither.

The committee could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to recommend Alito, 55, to the full Senate. All 10 Republicans on the panel appear virtually certain to support him, while several senators predicted all eight Democrats will oppose him.

Liberals fear Alito's potential impact on the court because Bush tapped him to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has sided with liberal justices in several high-profile 5 to 4 decisions over the years. Alito, a New Jersey-based federal appellate judge for the past 15 years, praised O'Connor's work ethic yesterday without addressing her often moderate views.

"I would try to emulate her dedication and her integrity and her dedication to the case-by-case process of adjudication," he told Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). "I am my own person, with whatever abilities I have and whatever limitations I have."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) predicted that Alito will win the backing of all 55 GOP senators, including those who support abortion rights and those who joined a bipartisan effort last year to avert a showdown over judicial filibusters. He practically dared Democrats to try a filibuster, a tactic in which they could block a vote on Alito's confirmation unless 60 senators agreed to end debate. Democrats used the procedure to block several appellate court nominees in Bush's first term.

"If they want to filibuster, frankly, bring it on," Hatch said. In return, he predicted, Republicans would change Senate rules to ban judicial filibusters.

Democrats generally avoided mentioning the tactic. "We've still got a ways to go to figure what the strategy is going to be," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the committee's best-known liberal, said in an interview.

Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement criticizing Alito but not mentioning a filibuster. "I have not forgotten that Judge Alito was only nominated after the radical right wing of the president's party forced Harriet Miers to withdraw," he said, referring to Bush's earlier choice for the slot.

The White House thinks Alito will win 60 to 70 votes for confirmation, short of the 78 votes Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. received last year, said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending senators' sensibilities. One Senate Democrat, Ben Nelson (Neb.), said yesterday that he has seen nothing "that I would consider a disqualifying issue against Judge Alito."

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