Alito Wraps Testimony, Senate Panel Continues Debate

Hearings on Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to join the U.S. Supreme Court continue Friday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Alito wrapped up his testimony on Thursday after four days of grilling by Democrats and friendly questioning by Republicans. Alito is poised to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who usually acts as the "swing vote" on the narrowly divided nine-judge panel.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, from actus reus to stare decisis, should American law keep using Latin phrases?

But first to Capitol Hill, where we've heard a lot of those phrases recently. The Senate Judiciary Committee is in the home stretch of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Alito finished answering questions yesterday. Today the committee continued hearing from witnesses for and against the nominee. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

A senator's confirmation vote on a Supreme Court nominee is an educated guess. Senators have to assess what kind of Supreme Court justice the nominee might turn out to be. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard a range of possibilities from Alito's friends, clerks, colleagues and former bosses.

Professor NORA DEMLEITNER: His confirmation will, in fact, not pose a threat to the rights of women, to the rights of minorities, immigrants or other vulnerable groups.

Professor ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: I believe that at this point in time it's dangerous to have a person like Samuel Alito, with his writings and records on executive power, on the United States Supreme Court.

Professor ANTHONY KRONMAN: The judicial temperament that I discern in these opinions is entirely consistent with the human temperament of the man I came to know and admire more than 30 years ago.

Professor LAURENCE TRIBE: With the vote of Judge Alito as Justice Alito, the court will cut back on Roe v. Wade step by step.

SHAPIRO: Law Professors Nora Demleitner, Erwin Chemerinsky, Anthony Kronman and Laurence Tribe were part of the fourth witness panel out of six called to testify in the Alito hearings. Other panels included civil rights and abortion rights advocates, lawyers who'd worked with Alito and, for the first time in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, sitting federal judges. Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy seemed to be trying to convince someone when he began the morning by saying...

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): These public witnesses are important when we're deciding whether to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with Judge Samuel Alito.

SHAPIRO: After four long days of testimony, many of the seats in the hearing room were empty today. That included the senators seats. Leahy himself released a statement at the end of Alito's questioning yesterday suggesting that he'd all but made up his mind on the nominee. The statement accused Alito of failing the test on protecting fundamental rights and checking government's intrusion.

Part of Democrats' frustration with Alito seemed to come from the line he drew on abortion. While Chief Justice John Roberts said at his hearings Roe vs. Wade was settled law, Alito would not make that statement. On today's panel, former Solicitor General Charles Freed tried to explain. Freed said Congress and the media had interpreted Roberts' statement as a commitment to uphold Roe.

Mr. CHARLES FREED (Former Solicitor General): Judge Alito , to his credit, when he was asked that question was so scrupulous about giving a commitment that he avoided a formulation which had come to be made the equivalent of a commitment.

SHAPIRO: Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter has said he hopes the committee can vote on the nominee next week. The full Senate may vote before the month is out.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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