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Judge Samuel Alito (left) meets with Sen. Mark Pryor (R-AR) on Capitol Hill, Nov. 3, 2005. Pryor is part of the Gang of 14, a group of senators who may play a pivotal role in deciding whether Alito's nomination to the high court is filibustered.
The prospects of Judge Samuel Alito winning confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court will probably rest with a group of senators known as the Gang of 14. That's the group of seven Republican and seven Democratic (mostly pragmatic) senators who kept the Senate from plunging into a battle over the role of the filibuster last year. They may also hold the key to keeping the Senate from falling into acrimony over another judicial filibuster regarding Judge Alito.
The group formed last year after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist warned of a stiff response if Democrats continued to block up-or-down votes on some of President Bush's judicial nominees. Frist vowed to unleash what became known as the "nuclear option," which would curtail the ability of the minority to filibuster. The issue, which went on for months, threatened to end what little comity there had been between the two parties.
At the last moment, 14 senators came together and defused what would have been a historical blowup. Under the agreement, the seven Republicans said they would not support Frist's "nuclear option." The seven Democrats agreed to no longer block three previously filibustered Bush nominees and pledged to consider the filibuster of future nominees only under "extreme circumstances." (The phrase "extreme circumstances" was never defined.)
John Roberts easily survived the process: Only 22 of the Senate's 44 Democrats — and none of the Republicans — voted against his confirmation as chief justice. In part, that's because Roberts had little in the way of a "paper trail" that his opponents could use to warrant a filibuster. Samuel Alito is different. He has a far more voluminous record on a score of issues, including but not limited to abortion. So some Democrats are openly discussing the possibility of a filibuster. And once again, attention is on the Gang of 14 and their role in Alito's chances for confirmation.
Some observers have characterized the 14 as moderates. But that's not exactly accurate. On the Republican side, it would be fair to call Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins moderates. But Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is as close to a Republican liberal as you could find. And while Mike DeWine of Ohio is considered a moderate conservative, John McCain (AZ), John Warner (VA) and Lindsey Graham (SC) are reliable conservatives on most issues. Nearly all the Democrats in the group, however, are considered moderates: Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), Joseph Lieberman (CT), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Ken Salazar (CO). Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, though, is a liberal. And for the most part, Robert Byrd — the senior member of the Senate — is beyond ideological categorization.
One thing that most of the 14 senators may have in common is a maverick streak — a willingness, at times, to put partisanship aside and work for a compromise. And that's what brought the "Gang of 14" together. Here is a snapshot look at the group: