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Samuel Alito pounded by Democrats as hearings open, says he would follow law as Supreme Court justice
"A judge can't have any agenda," Alito said at the proceedings.
WASHINGTON -- Democrats are on the attack, and Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is on notice.
Alito absorbed hours of criticism from Senate Democrats at close quarters Monday, then pledged at his confirmation hearings to do what the law requires "in every single case" if approved for the Supreme Court.
"A judge can't have any agenda, a judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case, and a judge certainly doesn't have a client," said Alito, the 55-year-old appeals judge who is Bush's choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor for the swing seat on a divided high court.
Alito spoke after several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee made clear they intended to question him with unusual aggressiveness across the next few days about abortion, presidential powers in an age of terrorism, his personal credibility and more.
"In an era when the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture and is spying on American citizens, I find Judge Alito's support for an all-powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
"You give the impression of being a meticulous legal navigator, but, in the end, you always seem to chart a rightward course," added Chuck Schumer of New York.
Republicans, with a majority on the committee and the Senate, offered Alito shelter.
"As of right now, there's no question that he's going to have my vote," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned Democrats against setting a precedent of filibustering Alito's nomination on the basis of abortion rights. He said if that became the standard, there are many senators who believe so deeply that "an abortion is certain death for an unborn child that they would stand on their feet forever."
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, opened the session by saying he hoped for "fair, full and dignified" proceedings.
By late afternoon, Specter said he was concerned that "so many senators are already in concrete without having heard from the nominee."
"That applies to a few of the senators on my side of the aisle but many more among the Democrats. ... A number of the opening statements by the Democrats sounded more like indictments than opening statements," he said.
Alito sat at a red-covered witness table, his wife, Martha-Ann, daughter Laura and son Philip as well as other relatives behind him for support.
Outside the room, advocates on both sides mounted the equivalent of political campaigns.
The Republican National Committee issued a steady stream of statements alleging "false statements" by Kennedy, Schumer and other Democrats -- 18 such statements in all, by GOP count.
Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, and GOP officials have said they are concerned about the possibility they will lose up to three votes from within the rank and file. Several Democrats are the subject of intense lobbying by activists on both sides of the nomination.
As a result, several strategists have said Alito is likely to win confirmation by a narrower margin than Roberts did. If Democrats decide to filibuster, that would force Republicans to post 60 votes to advance the nomination to a final vote.
If Democrats block them from that total, Republicans could, in turn, seek a parliamentary ruling outlawing such tactics, a maneuver known as the "nuclear option" that was narrowly averted last spring in a clash over appeals court nominees.
With BC-Alito Analysis, BC-Alito-Excerpts, BC-Alito-Notebook, BC-Bio Box-Alito
AP Photos WCAP220-221, 214, 226, 229, DCMC101
AP Graphic ALITO PROFILE