By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 20, 2006
A procession of Democratic senators, including two who supported the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said yesterday that they will oppose the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. They warned that he would not provide a judicial check against the expansion of presidential power or be properly vigilant about protecting the rights of ordinary Americans.
The mounting Democratic opposition underscored the sharp partisan divide that has developed over Alito's nomination, after Roberts was confirmed with 78 votes and solid bipartisan support. But although Democrats appear increasingly united in their opposition to Alito, they remain divided over whether to pursue a filibuster against the nomination.
A filibuster is increasingly less likely, Democratic strategists say, despite pressure from some liberal interest groups for Democrats to keep the option alive. But Democrats are more united in their desire to seek an extended floor debate over Alito -- even as they acknowledge that his confirmation is virtually assured -- because they believe polling shows that the more the American people learn about Alito's record and writings on civil liberties and other subjects, the more they will oppose his addition to the high court.
The newly announced opponents included Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.); Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip; and Sen. Ken Salazar (Colo.). Leahy and Salazar had voted in favor of Roberts. On Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), another Roberts backer, said he will oppose Alito.
Citing his concerns over President Bush's authorization of warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, Leahy said Alito had failed during his confirmation hearings to allay fears that he would endorse such an exercise of presidential power. "There is no reason to believe that Judge Alito will serve as an effective check and balance on government intrusion into the lives of Americans," he said. "Indeed, his record suggests otherwise."
Salazar cited concerns over executive power and fears that Alito would close courthouses "to the weakest and poorest" in society. A spokesman said Salazar remained vague on whether he would support a filibuster, though he is a member of the "Gang of 14," which agreed that judicial filibusters should be used only under extraordinary circumstances.
Kennedy, describing the confirmation battle as the "vote of a generation" for its potential long-term impact on the balance on the court, called Alito's record "clear and ominous" on issues of executive power. "The record demonstrates that we cannot count on Judge Alito to blow the whistle when the president is out of bounds," he said.
Kennedy's remarks were notable for what he did not say about Alito. He never mentioned Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, after battering the nominee about it last week. Nor did Kennedy cite a controversy over Alito's participation in a case involving the investment firm Vanguard Group Inc. Kennedy had berated Alito, who has investments in Vanguard mutual funds, for not recusing himself from the case, but critics of Kennedy said the judge had no financial interest in the outcome.
Only one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) has announced his support for Alito. As Republicans coalesced around Alito, conservative organizations announced plans to aim radio and television ads at states carried by Bush in 2004 that are represented by at least one Democrat in the Senate. The states include North Dakota, South Dakota, Louisiana and Arkansas.