Alito Faces Third Day of Questioning by Senate Panel

Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito continue in the Senate Thursday. Ari Shapiro reports on the third day of questioning by the Judiciary Committee about Alito's judicial philosophy, his thoughts on abortion rights and the power of the executive branch, and Alito's role in a controversial college alumni group.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, a conversation with Kate Michelman. She's former president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, and she's scheduled to testify during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Those hearings are our lead story today. Judge Alito has nearly finished answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. NPR's Ari Shapiro has more.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Wednesday was a late night for some Judiciary Committee staffers. At the request of Democratic Massachusets Senator Edward Kennedy, the committee cracked open boxes containing papers from a group called The Concerned Alumni of Princeton, or CAP. CAP criticized admission of women and minorities to the university, and in a 1985 Justice Department job application, Alito highlighted his membership in the group. During confirmation hearings, Alito said he didn't remember being part of the group. Last night, committee staffers scoured archives of the group's magazines, minutes from meetings and membership rosters. They finished at 2 in the morning, and when the Judiciary Committee reconvened today, Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made this pronouncement.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Judiciary Committee Chairman; Republican, Pennsylvania): Judge Alito's name never appeared in any document. His name was not mentioned in any of the letters to or from the founder, William Rusher. His name was mentioned in any of the letters to or from CAP's long-term executive director, T. Harding Jones.

SHAPIRO: Senator Kennedy did not question Alito about CAP today, but towards the end of his questioning, Kennedy delivered a statement containing some of the reasons he was unhappy with the nominee, and CAP was among them.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): We still do not have a clear answer to why Judge Alito joined this reprehensible group in the first place. We still do not know why he believed that membership in the group would enhance his job application in the Reagan Justice Department. We still don't know why he chose this organization amongst so many other organizations that he likely belonged to. But somehow he can't remember why.

SHAPIRO: The issue of CAP seems unlikely to keep Alito from a seat on the Supreme Court. In fact, Democrats were hard-pressed today to find new areas of questioning. They revisited some of the subjects that have generated heat in the last few days: abortion, executive power and judicial recusals. On the issue of judicial recusals, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch stepped in to do damage control and acknowledged the sense of Groundhog Day that prevailed in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Now to have this like you've done something wrong because you made a mistake, and then you rectified it! My gosh, how many times do we have to beat that old dead horse?

SHAPIRO: It was clear that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Several senators did not use all of their allotted time for questioning in the final round, and Chairman Specter, who for the last three days has been ruthless with the gavel, told the famously verbose Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware that if he wanted a little extra time to talk today, that wouldn't be a problem. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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