Democrat avoids filibuster pledge against Supreme Court nominee

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Some committee Democrats, however, said it was too soon to tell whether a filibuster might be necessary

WASHINGTON -- A veteran Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says he doubts his party will try to block a final vote on President Bush's nomination of conservative jurist Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Alito, a federal appellate judge, should get a simple up-or-down majority vote on his appointment, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"My instinct is we should commit," Biden said, playing down prospects that Democrats will try to begin a filibuster that would require 60 of the 100 senators to approve Alito's selection to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Bush's fellow Republicans hold 55 seats.

Other committee Democrats, however, said it was too soon to tell whether a filibuster might be necessary, citing initial concerns about Alito's conservative record on the bench.

Bush selected Alito after White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination amid withering criticism from conservatives.

Abortion issues

Alito's confirmation hearings begin in the Judiciary Committee on Jan. 9. Some Democrats have raised the prospect of a filibuster until they get a fuller sense of his views on abortion and other social issues on which O'Connor has been a swing vote.

One case in which senators have expressed concern is Alito's 1991 dissent in a case in which the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit appeals court struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.

O'Connor was an author of the Supreme Court ruling that found the notification unconstitutional.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., another Judiciary Committee member, said at this point he was not hearing his Democratic colleagues discuss the filibuster option.

Kennedy said he had an open mind about Alito's nomination, although he was concerned about the judge's record on privacy, as well as police powers and rights of the disabled. Conservatives' support of Alito also troubled him, he said.

"The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic about this nominee. We have to find out why are they so enthusiastic this time and what do they know that we don't know," Kennedy said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Dick Durbin, noting that senators still must review more than 300 of Alito's opinions, said the time to decide whether to filibuster should come after Alito addresses questions during the confirmation hearings.

"Let's give Judge Alito a clean start and not presume he is the right person or the wrong person until we see the evidence," Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of 14 centrist Republicans and Democrats who averted a Senate breakdown over judicial nominees last spring, said most members of that group, including himself, are "favorably disposed" toward Alito.

The Democrats "are making up their minds and waiting for the hearings which is entirely appropriate, ... but so far I have not seen any significant concern that might lead to the filibuster," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."

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