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Alito Hearings: Thursday's Audio Highlights

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito walks away from his table after four days of public testimony in his Senate confirmation hearings, Jan. 12, 2006. Alito completed his testimony Thursday. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters hide caption

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Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

Witness Testimony Begins

The first of 31 witnesses began testifying before the Senate Committee, including three representatives of the American Bar Association, which gave Judge Alito its highest ranking. A group of judges who have worked with Alito on the U.S. Court of Appeals also testified in support of his nomination, followed by three witnesses in favor of his nomination and three opposed. The favorable witnesses tended to speak about Alito's character while the negative witnesses focused on his past judicial opinions.

Testifying by video-conference from California, Judge Leonard Garth of the 3rd Circuit Court, for whom Alito clerked from 1976-77, says Alito is not "revolutionary," and is not influenced by personal preferences.

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Judge Maryanne Trump Barry and Judge Timothy Lewis, both of the 3rd Circuit Court, say they have never sensed any hostility toward women or civil rights from Alito.

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Edna Ball Axelrod, former Chief of the Appeals Division, U.S. Attorney's Office, New Jersey, says she is a lifelong Democrat who supports Alito, and that Alito does not pursue personal agendas.

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Assistant Prof. Goodwin Liu from the University of California describes three closely contested cases in which he says Alito's opinion threatened civil liberties.

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Liu's examples are called "cherry-picking" by Carter Phillips, appellate lawyer and Alito's former colleague in the Reagan administration's Office of Solicitor General.

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Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito fielded questions almost exclusively from Democrats during his final day of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Alito was pressed on right-to-die and death penalty cases, the limits of presidential authority and other issues, but rarely gave more than general answers that avoided his personal views.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER

As they have throughout the hearings, Democrats peppered Alito with questions about the reach of presidential authority. Alito said that the extent of the president's power to authorize the use of military force without congressional authority isn't settled. Other questions probed the legality of the warrantless domestic-surveillance program authorized by President Bush.

Alito replies to a question from Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) about the president's power to invade a nation without congressional approval.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Alito whether the president has the legal authority to order warrantless domestic surveillance without explicit congressional approval, and Alito replies.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) asks: If the president has the power to authorize warrantless wiretapping, can he also authorize searches of a private home? Alito responds.

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Alito tells Feinstein that the president is bound by laws passed by Congress.

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COMPARISONS TO O'CONNOR

Democrats have repeatedly asked whether Alito would follow in the mold of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom he would replace if confirmed. O'Connor has provided the decisive vote in many momentous rulings. Democrats contend that Alito would take the court in a more conservative direction.

Alito says he will try to emulate O'Connor's dedication and conscientiousness.

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Asked if he would be at the center of the court's ideological spectrum, Alito tells Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) that he would be the same type of justice as he's been a judge.

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DEATH PENALTY

Alito was asked several questions about the death penalty and whether the Constitution bars the execution of an innocent person.

Alito tells Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that it's unconstitutional to execute someone who isn't found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) asks Alito to answer directly whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person, and Alito replies.

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END-OF-LIFE ISSUES

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) brought up the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was at the center of a long battle between her husband and family over whether she should be allowed to die. The debate was taken up by Congress and the courts. Leahy asked Alito whether a patient's wishes should guide decisions on medical treatment.

Alito tells Leahy that the right to decline medical treatment is a right recognized under common law.

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Alito tells Leahy that a person with a living will can designate someone to decide whether to use extraordinary measures to keep him alive.

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SCHUMER WEIGHS IN

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that Alito had failed to dissociate himself from statements made while he was a Reagan administration lawyer in the 1980s that opposed abortion rights and the one-person, one-vote reapportionment principle. Schumer's statement left little doubt that he plans to oppose Alito's nomination.

Schumer says that he 'remains very troubled' by Alito's judicial views.

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