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Count shows Alito has votes to prevent filibuster

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. John Kerry took to the floor of the Senate Jan. 27 to make a last-minute case for a filibuster against the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, although it appeared to be futile in the wake of increasing support for Alito from Kerry’s fellow Democrats.

Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, told the Associated Press he was leaning toward supporting Alito and would oppose a filibuster. Support from Conrad would give Alito four votes from Democrats. The others are Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Robert Byrd (W. Va.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.).

In addition, several other Democrats said they would not support a filibuster, even though they plan on voting against the nomination itself. One of those was Sen. Mark Pryor, D.-Ark.

“[W]hile I personally cannot support Judge Alito’s confirmation on the Supreme Court, there is not a smoking gun in his past that would warrant ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and subsequently a filibuster against his nomination,” Pryor said in a statement.

A “cloture” vote — that is, a vote to limit debate and prevent a filibuster — is scheduled for Monday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. A vote on Alito’s nomination is set for Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET.

Other Democrats opposing a filibuster were Sens. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). The New York Times also said Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) would not join in a filibuster.

If all 55 Republicans join with the aforementioned Democrats, then there would be at least 64 votes to prevent a filibuster — more than the 60 required.

“Everyone knows there is not enough votes to support a filibuster,” said Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., who said he would support Kerry’s effort and vote for a filibuster.

Social conservatives believe Alito’s confirmation would be a significant victory for their cause. They point to a host of issues — including abortion, religious freedom and “gay marriage” — where Alito may take their side. Although he did not take any stands on those issues during confirmation hearings, his past statements and rulings and his belief in a limited role of the judiciary has given conservatives great hope.

Kerry, though, said Alito would “take the country backwards on critical issues.”

“I’m proud to join my friend, the senior senator from Massachusetts, in taking a stand against this nomination,” Kerry said, referencing Sen. Edward Kennedy. “I know it’s an uphill battle…. I hear the arguments — ‘Reserve your gunpowder for the future.’ Well, what is the future, if it changes so dramatically at this moment in time? What happens to those people who count on us to stand up and protect them now — not later, not at some future time. This is the choice for the court now.”

Fifty-six senators have announced their support for Alito, although two Republicans — Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) — have yet to take a position. Ted Stevens, R.-Alaska, said Friday he would support Alito. It could be the closest nomination battle since the one for Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed 52-48.

Republicans remained confident that Alito would be confirmed.

“The Democrat leadership knows that Senators from both parties will join together to defeat any attempt to filibuster the nomination of Judge Alito,” Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said in a statement. “So these continued threats of obstruction are petty and partisan.

“Judge Alito deserves better than this stunt; he deserves better than a desperate attempt by a partisan minority to save face with their hard left base. A bipartisan majority of the Senate agrees that Judge Alito deserves to be confirmed, and on Tuesday, despite the last gasps of the outside groups, he will be confirmed.”

Alito would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has frustrated conservatives on a host of rulings, including two this summer in which she opposed the display of the Ten Commandments on public property.

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  • Michael Foust