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Judiciary Committee sends Alito nomination to full Senate

WASHINGTON (BP)–Voting along party lines Jan. 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, where Republicans hope, but may not be guaranteed, to get an up-or-down vote by the end of the week.

All 10 Republicans on the committee voted to recommend Alito’s confirmation, while all eight Democrats voted against it. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., said floor debate on the nomination would begin Wednesday, with a full Senate vote by the end of the week.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R.-Iowa, told Radio Iowa he feared Democrats might “slow walk” the debate and delay a vote until next Tuesday. That way, Grassley said, any Republican celebration over a victory would be short, because President Bush is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union speech that night.

“[T]he good news of Alito’s approval would be lost,” Grassley said.

Liberal groups are asking Democratic senators to filibuster Alito, although so far, those attempts appear to be futile. Republicans have 55 seats, and one Democrat — Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska — has said he will support Alito. It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But no Democrat has yet to say a filibuster will be attempted.

The floor vote is expected to be close, although confirmation — assuming there is no filibuster — appears guaranteed. The last close confirmation vote was for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed 52-48. By contrast, Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed 78-22.

A Jan. 24 Gallup poll of 1,006 adults showed that 54 percent of Americans support Alito’s confirmation, 30 percent oppose it and 16 percent have no opinion. In addition, 48 percent say a filibuster would not “be justified,” 38 percent say it would be and 15 percent had no opinion.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., voted against Alito Jan. 24, pointing to the nominee’s past statements on abortion. In 1985, while serving as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, Alito wrote a document advocating the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the infamous 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Alito has stood by the statement but has said the role of a judge is much different from the role of an attorney and that he would approach abortion cases with an “open mind.”

“On this vital constitutional question … Judge Alito remained utterly opaque [during committee hearings], leading to the only possible reasonable conclusion — that he still believes that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion, but does not want to tell the American people because he knows how unpopular that view is,” Schumer said.

Both sides say Alito’s vote could swing the court to the right. He would replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, a supporter of abortion rights. Alito’s vote could provide the swing vote on the constitutionality of a federal law banning partial-birth abortion, the horrific late-term procedure in which a baby is partially delivered, feet first, until only its head remains in the birth canal. Its head is then split open and its brain suctioned out, preventing a live birth. In 2000, O’Connor voted to overturn a Nebraska ban on the procedure, although the court could hear a case concerning the federal ban this year.

Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said Democrats were opposing Alito simply because he wouldn’t pledge to vote their way.

“Every member of the committee agrees that Judge Alito is one of the most well-qualified nominees ever nominated to serve the Supreme Court,” Cornyn said in a release. “But if qualifications, integrity, fairness, and judicial philosophy were all that mattered in this process, Judge Alito would have been voted out of this committee unanimously. But the new rule is that any nominee who refuses to promise to impose a liberal agenda from the bench is subjected to, as one of his opponents called it, the ‘you name it, we’ll do it’ tactics of distortion and smear.

“Judge Alito survived these unwarranted, baseless attacks.”

Even if Alito is confirmed, the Supreme Court would not have the votes to overturn Roe. Even without O’Connor, five members are on record as affirming Roe. But an Alito confirmation likely would put the spotlight on Justice John Paul Stevens, who turns 86 April 20. A nominee of President Ford, he supports Roe. The court has nine members.

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