Democrats to delay first vote on Alito


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., left, talks with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat of the committee, on Capitol Hill on Friday.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 10:49 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Democrats confirmed Friday that they will make a last-ditch attempt to slow Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's momentum by delaying the first vote on his candidacy.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in the waning minutes of Alito's confirmation hearing that unnamed Democrats will "exercise their rights" to put off next week's scheduled Alito vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
That vote would have been Republicans' first chance to officially endorse President Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. All ten GOP Judiciary Committee members have already announced their support for Alito, a 55-year-old federal appeals judge, former federal prosecutor and Reagan administration lawyer.
The White House on Friday heaped praise on Alito, with spokesman Scott McClellan saying the proceedings showed Americans a man who's "brilliant, honorable and decent, open-minded and fair."
But Democrats say they won't be ready Tuesday to vote on his nomination, since Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has called on party members to hold off making a decision until after a Wednesday meeting.
The federal government is closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
"A number of our members are going to be home for Martin Luther King events this weekend, will not be back on time on Tuesday and so they will exercise their rights" to delay the vote, Leahy said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member, said "a delay for delay's sake would be a petty, partisan move."
Most - if not all - of the Senate's 55 Republicans are expected to line up behind Alito.
Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., predicted that all eight of the committee Democrats would vote against Alito, whenever the vote is held. But on the final Senate vote, "I think there will be a little deviation," he said.
The 44 Senate Democrats have been mostly silent about their intentions, although committee senators like Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York have indicated they will oppose Alito's confirmation.
Their liberal supporters plan to work senators hard before the final vote to ensure as many of them as possible vote against Alito, who they say will be likely to swing the court to the right in replacing O'Connor. She provided decisive votes on such important issues as abortion, capital punishment and affirmative action.
During the hearing, Democrats repeatedly attacked Alito's decisions as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and his writings while a lawyer for the Reagan administration, including a 1985 statement saying the Constitution did not protect the right to an abortion. They also highlighted his membership in an organization that discouraged the admission of women and minorities at Princeton University.
"In what he said and what he failed to say, Alito confirmed our worst fears about the kind of Supreme Court justice he would be," said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
But Democrats' chances of stopping Alito seem to get slimmer each day. The only way they can block his nomination is through a filibuster, and they would need Republican help to keep Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., from banning the tactic.
But five of the seven Republican members of the "Gang of 14" - centrist senators who defused a Senate showdown over judicial filibusters last year by saying "extraordinary circumstances" would be needed - already have said they will not help Democrats if they attempt to filibuster Alito's confirmation.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, both Judiciary Committee members, made that commitment before the confirmation began, and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, agreed Thursday that a filibuster would not be justified.
On Friday, two other GOP "Gang" members jumped in. Sen. Susan Collins "does not see a justification for and would not support a filibuster," spokeswoman Jen Burita said. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., "has said he has not seen any extraordinary circumstances," spokesman Stephen Hourahan said.
The last two - GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia - have not commented, but one of the Democratic members of the "Gang" has.
"So far I have seen nothing during my interview with the nominee, the background materials that have been produced or through the committee process that I would consider a disqualifying issue against Judge Alito," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

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