January 26, 2006

Byrd "Yes" on Alito, Lieberman "No"

More Democrats Get Behind Alito Nomination
Jan 26 2:02 PM US/Eastern

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, whose confirmation seems certain in the Republican-run Senate, padded his modest Democratic support Thursday with endorsements by Sens. Robert Byrd and Tim Johnson.

Alito already was assured the votes of the 55 Republicans in the 100- member chamber –enough to be put over the top – when West Virginia's Byrd and Johnson of South Dakota joined Nebraska's Ben Nelson in saying they'll vote yes.

Alito would become the nation's 110th justice, replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Throughout her years on the high court, she often has been a key fifth vote on contentious social issues including abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

"I am troubled by Judge Alito's apparent views on matters such as executive power, his past opposition to the principle of one person, one vote, and his narrow interpretation of certain civil rights laws," Johnson said. "Even so, I cannot accept an argument that his views are so radical that the Senate is justified in denying his confirmation."

Johnson and other senators also are advising Democratic leaders against attempting a filibuster, the only chance the minority party would have to stop Alito's confirmation.

"Because we have such a full plate of pressing issues before Congress, a filibuster at this time would be, in my view, very counterproductive," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who wants the Senate to concentrate on Hurricane Katrina rebuilding programs.

President Bush praised Alito during a news conference Thursday. "He understands the role of a judge is not to advance a personal and political agenda," Bush said. "He is a decent man. He's got a lot of experience and he deserves an up or down vote in the Senate."

The confirmation debate on the Senate floor continued Thursday, but Republicans and the White House are so confident that Alito will be approved by the Senate that they've already started congratulating him and sending up new lower-court nominations for senators to consider.

A few hours after senators started debating his nomination Wednesday, Alito met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter in a U.S. Capitol room that directly faces the neighboring Supreme Court.

The conservative judge shook their hands and joked with the Republican leaders and thanked them for their efforts. Alito, who had met privately with more than 80 senators since Bush nominated him in October, also thanked "all of the senators who supported me and were kind enough to meet with me."

The 100-member Senate is expected to confirm the 55-year-old judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia before Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Democrats continued to warn that Alito's nomination would put individual rights and liberties in danger. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D- Calif., the only woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Alito will join justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in the court's conservative wing and apply "originalist" interpretations to court decisions.

"If an originalist analysis was applied to the Fourteenth Amendment, women would not be provided equal protection under the Constitution, interracial marriages could be outlawed, schools could still be segregated and the principle of one man, one vote would not govern the way we elect our representatives," Feinstein said.

Even though Democrats like Landrieu and Ken Salazar of Colorado won't support a filibuster, that doesn't mean that liberals aren't working to get the largest vote against Alito possible.

Twenty-nine senators – including Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Carl Levin, Daniel Inouye, Joesph Lieberman and Jeff Bingaman as well as independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont – have said they will vote against Alito. Twenty-two Democrats voted against conservative Chief Justice John Roberts last year.

If the pattern continues, Alito may be on his way to the most partisan Senate victory for a Supreme Court nominee in years. The closest vote in modern history is Justice Clarence Thomas' 52-48 victory in 1991, when 11 Democrats broke with their party and voted for President George H.W. Bush's nominee.

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