Alito faces the fire today


Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 10:37 p.m.
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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito is shown on Capitol Hill, in this Nov. 15, 2005, file photo in Washington.

AP Photo/Dennis Cook, file
WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats on Sunday promised a drawn-out confirmation and perhaps a filibuster for Samuel Alito if the Supreme Court nominee evades or refuses to answer their questions on abortion, presidential war powers and other issues at this week's confirmation hearings.
''If he continuously, given his previous record, refused to answer questions and hid behind 'I can't answer this because it might come before me,' it would increase the chances of a filibuster,'' said Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats say they will not decide whether to filibuster or try to delay a committee vote until after the committee's weeklong hearings that begin today.
If Democrats attempt a filibuster based on Alito's answers on abortion, at least one Republican is ready to vote for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's plan to ban judicial filibusters.
''I would consider that not only not an extraordinary circumstance, but a threat to the independence of the judiciary, and I would stop it in its tracks with my vote,'' said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
Graham is one of the 14 senators - seven from each party - who joined together to end an earlier Senate showdown of the stalling tactic for the president's judicial nominees.
That group of centrist lawmakers decided last year to support such filibusters only under ''extraordinary circumstances.''
Republicans say there is no reason to delay or filibuster Alito, the federal appeals court judge who is Bush's choice to succeed the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She often provided the swing vote on abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action and other contentious issues.
''I have not seen any rational basis for filibustering Judge Alito,'' said the Judiciary Committee chairman, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, on CNN's ''Late Edition.''
Alito will face at least two days of questioning from senators; the nominee and the lawmakers planned to give their opening statements at noon today, hours after Alito's scheduled breakfast meeting at the White House with the president.
Questioning begins Tuesday and is expected to go through at least Thursday. Specter has called for a Jan. 17 committee vote. But Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat, would not promise that Democrats would stick to that schedule, which could lead to a final vote in the full Senate on Jan. 20.
''If he doesn't answer the questions, then it gets out of my control. Some senator would move to hold it over.'' Leahy told CBS' ''Face the Nation.''
Alito was the White House's second choice to replace O'Connor, the high court's first female justice. White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew from consideration after conservatives questioned her judicial philosophy and qualifications for the Supreme Court.
Bush then turned to Alito, a 55-year-old conservative judge on the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia who previously worked as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer for the Reagan administration.
Even with the current debate over the government's wiretapping without court approval and other uses of executive authority in the fight against terrorism, abortion was expected to be the most contentious topic at the hearings.
''I believe that presidential power will be very, very important,'' said Specter, an abortion rights moderate.
But, he added, ''I do not think that you can put aside the issue of a woman's right to choose. I think that that still, in the popular mind, on day-to-day activities, is still the bigger question.''
Senators who have met privately with Alito say he told them that 1985 written comments stating that there was no constitutional right to an abortion were part of a job application for the Reagan administration, which opposed abortion.
At the same time, he wrote in a separate legal memo while at the Justice Department that the department should try to chip away at abortion rights rather than mount an all-out assault.
At least one committee Democrat said she would consider a filibuster if Alito's answers lead her to believe that he would overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion.
''If I believed he was going to go in there and overthrow Roe, the question is most likely yes,'' Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told ''Fox News Sunday.''
It is unlikely that Alito will answer questions about how he would rule on abortion questions, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
''I expect you'll hear from him what we heard from Chief Justice John Roberts. And that is, he respects the decision under the principles of stare decisis,'' said Cornyn, referring to a Latin term for ''to stand by a decision.''
''That's not an impenetrable wall toward reconsideration of a previous decision under the Constitution,'' Cornyn told NBC's ''Meet the Press.''

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