Senators Mull Prospect of Alito Filibuster

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito spends a second day in meetings with senators on Capitol Hill who will determine his fate. With Democrats alarmed at what they perceive to be Alito's conservative record, a potential filibuster is once again under consideration.

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In quieter corners of the Capitol, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito spent a second day calling on key senators. Alito's visits are aimed at shoring up support, as speculation grows about his nomination possibly being blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster. NPR's David Welna has that story.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

On his first full day of making the rounds on Capitol Hill, Judge Alito scheduled visits with four Republican senators and one moderate Democrat. The first to see him was Ohio Republican Mike DeWine, who's on the Judiciary Committee. DeWine had only praise for Alito after meeting with him for more than an hour.

Senator MIKE DeWINE (Republican, Ohio): This is a good, solid pick by the president. Judge Alito is really, I think, in the mainstream of conservative thought and conservative judges in this country.

WELNA: DeWine's take on Alito is important because he's also a member of the so-called Gang of 14, the group made up of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats who headed off a showdown over judicial filibusters earlier this year. He does not think Alito's the kind of nominee who deserves to be blocked.

Sen. DeWINE: So, you know, I can't envision that a filibuster would be tried. You know, it certainly does not rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances, and, therefore, you know, I would be prepared if a filibuster, which I don't think will happen--but if a filibuster was tried, to vote to change the rules of the Senate to stop the filibuster.

WELNA: Another Republican on the Judiciary Committee, John Cornyn of Texas, says that if Alito's blocked by a filibuster, he and others will certainly push for using the so-called nuclear option. That would allow a simple majority in the Senate to do away with judicial filibusters altogether.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): My hope is that we will not return to those dark days because I think it's bad for the Senate. But if an obstreperous minority do insist on stopping our ability to confirm judges by a majority rule by up-or-down vote, then I think we ought to take whatever means is necessary within the rules to restore that majority rule.

WELNA: South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson also met with Alito today. He said there's no question Alito's a conservative, and he would not rule out backing a filibuster to block him.

Senator TIM JOHNSON (Democrat, South Dakota): I would leave all of those options on the table. I don't think this is the time or the place to be making any conclusions about either a vote or a process. I believe that a nominee who has broad--is from the broad mainstream of American jurisprudential thinking is a nominee who is likely to secure 60 votes anyway.

WELNA: The University of Connecticut's David Yalof, an expert on judicial politics, says it would be easier for Democrats to block Alito if he were underqualified or had some other kind of conflict.

Mr. DAVID YALOF (University of Connecticut): And when it's simply all about ideology, it puts Senate Democrats in a very difficult position of basically arguing on ideological grounds.

WELNA: Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who's also in the Gang of 14, has voted against other Democratic judicial filibusters. Would he support a filibuster if one were mounted against Alito?

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): It's way too early to be able to say. I've not ruled it out, and I certainly am not going to rule it in.

WELNA: Nelson said it all depends on if there are extraordinary circumstances, which he says he'll only know when he sees them. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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