Alito Is Sworn In On High Court

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Samuel A. Alito Jr. was sworn in as the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice yesterday, marking a major victory for conservatives in their decades-old drive to move the court rightward, and alarming liberals who fear that long-standing rights might be in jeopardy.

By the narrowest margin since Clarence Thomas's 1991 nomination, the Senate voted 58 to 42, largely along party lines, to confirm Alito to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, who often was the pivotal vote on a closely divided court. Alito, 55, was quickly sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the other conservative whom President Bush named to the nine-member court after 11 years without a vacancy.

Four Democratic senators voted for Alito, and one Republican -- Lincoln D. Chafee, who faces a tough reelection battle this year in Democratic-leaning Rhode Island -- voted against him. Roberts was confirmed 78 to 22 last fall, backed by every Republican and 22 Democrats.

Breaking ranks yesterday by backing Alito were Democrats from four states that Bush carried easily, and three of them face reelection this fall: Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.). The fourth, Tim Johnson (S.D.), is up for election in 2008. All other Democrats and one independent voted against Alito's confirmation, and 54 Republicans voted aye. Conservatives hope the cerebral and relatively young Roberts and Alito will join Thomas and Antonin Scalia to form a long-lasting right-of-center bloc that will frequently attract at least one other justice -- possibly centrist Anthony Kennedy -- to overturn liberal rulings on church-and-state questions, property rights, and many other issues.

"I think their persuasive abilities as conservatives will have an effect on the court as a whole, particularly and hopefully on Justice Kennedy," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview moments after the vote confirming Alito.

Liberal groups, meanwhile, framed Alito's confirmation in dire terms. "Unfortunately, the balance of the court has now tilted dramatically to the right, placing our fundamental rights and freedoms in jeopardy," said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice.

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