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Alito Hearings: Wednesday's Audio Highlights

leahy and kennedy

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) points to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as Sen. Patrick Leahy (L) looks on, Jan. 11, 2006. Kennedy aggressively challenged Alito on his membership in a Princeton alumni group that promoted discriminatory views. Joshua Roberts/Reuters hide caption

toggle caption Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Democratic senators continued aggressive questioning of Judge Samuel Alito during the third day of Senate hearings on his nomination to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel ratcheted up their defense of the nominee.

ABORTION

Democrats continued to press Alito for a direct answer on whether Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, is settled law. Alito pointed to the large body of case law that has developed in the years since that reaffirms Roe, but did not say whether he would uphold the precedent. Meanwhile, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), a vocal abortion foe, questioned Alito on instances when the Supreme Court was correct in reversing itself on long-standing precedent.

Alito answers a question from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on whether 'Roe v. Wade' is settled law.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) presses Alito on why he won't use the phrase 'settled law' to describe 'Roe,' and Alito replies.

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Alito says that, despite writing in a 1985 memo that he did not believe abortion rights are protected by the Constitution, the doctrine of respecting legal precedent known as 'stare decisis' would influence his analysis of abortion cases.

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Alito discusses Supreme Court reversals of precedent with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS).

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Alito distinguishes between state tort law and federal constitutional law when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) talks about contradictions he sees in laws concerning the life of a fetus.

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EXECUTIVE POWER

Alito faced a second day of questioning on the extent of the power of the executive branch. Alito said that the president did not have the power to order the FBI or other intelligence agencies to violate the Constitution.

Alito tells Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that the president 'has to follow the Constitution and the laws of the United States.'

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Alito says he regards the 'unitary executive' as the power of the president over the executive branch, not the power of the executive branch itself.

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CONCERNED ALUMNI OF PRINCETON

Democrats returned to the issue of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Alito listed himself as a member of the group in a 1985 job application. But he has told the committee that he does not recall his membership and that he disavows its stated hostility to women and minority students at Princeton. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) raised the ire of Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) when he proposed that the committee subpoena the group's records.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) challenges Alito's assertion that he did not know the alumni group promoted discriminatory views.

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Strong words are exchanged between Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Kennedy over the latter's request to subpoena the group's records.

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FAIRNESS IN THE COURT

Democrats have repeatedly suggested that Alito has a record of ruling against "the little guy" in favor of government interests. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) challenged Alito on his dissent in the 2001 case Riley v. Taylor, in which an African-American death row inmate argued that the prosecution improperly challenged black jurors. Durbin said he was "troubled" by Alito's dismissal of the role of race in the case.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) questions Alito on his dissent in 'Riley.'

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Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) defends Alito's record of fairness in the court.

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Addressing these criticisms, Alito says that 'everybody is entitled to be treated equally under the law.'

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asks Alito to clarify what he meant when he wrote in 1985 that he objected to the direction of the Warren Court. Critics have suggested that this meant Alito was hostile to the principle of 'one person, one vote.'

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FOREIGN LAW

In several recent cases, the Supreme Court has cited foreign law in interpreting the Constitution. Alito said he did not think this practice is "appropriate or useful."

Alito rejects the use of foreign law to interpret the Constitution.

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ETHICAL CONCERNS

Alito has defended his initial failure to step out of a 2002 appeal involving Vanguard, a company with which he has investments. Democrats have accused Alito of breaking a promise he made to the Judiciary Committee during his 1990 confirmation hearings for the federal appeals court that he would remove himself from cases that present a conflict of interest.

Alito replies to a question from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) about whether he thought his 'pledge' to recuse himself had a time limit.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) defends Alito as 'a good model for judges in terms of ethical conduct.'

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DEATH PENALTY

If confirmed, Alito would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a swing vote on death penalty cases during her 25 years on the court.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) asks Alito about whether he agrees with recent Supreme Court decisions limiting the application of the death penalty, and Alito replies.

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RELIGION

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) addresses religion for the first time in the hearings. He asks about Alito's personal moral and religious views and how these would affect his decision-making on the Supreme Court.

Alito says religious beliefs are important in his private life, but they have no influence on his role as a judge.

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Responding to Durbin's questions about the establishment clause which separates church and state, Alito says the courts make clear that the government cannot fund religious education.

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