Alito Day 5: Senate Hearings Conclude

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Specter and Leahy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA, seen left) and ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-VT) talk as the Senate wrapped up confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito, Jan. 13, 2006. Specter said he will vote for Alito. Reuters hide caption

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About the Author

Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court editor for CQ Press and contributing editor of CQ Weekly, has covered legal affairs as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1970.

The Senate Judiciary Committee ended its hearing on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Friday with all signs pointing toward his confirmation on a party-line vote — but only after a delay also pushed along party lines.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) closed the hearing early Friday afternoon by announcing that he will vote for Alito and predicting approval by the GOP-controlled panel. But Specter's plan for a committee vote on Tuesday was upset when ranking Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said some Democratic senators would use committee rules to delay the vote by a week.

Leahy said a delay was necessary because some senators would not be back in Washington after the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in time for a Tuesday vote. But Specter said the delay contradicted the schedule that he and Leahy had agreed to in November and indicated he would convene the committee on Tuesday anyway.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're going to proceed on the 17th," Specter said. "If they're held over, they're held over."

Specter, the most moderate of the 10 Republicans on the committee, had signaled likely support for Alito in his questions and comments throughout the week. On Friday, he said that Alito's qualifications were "agreed to" and that Alito "went about as far as he could go" in answering senators' questions on a range of issues — most prominently, abortion and executive power.

Leahy did not say how he intends to vote, but he and the seven other committee Democrats indicated strong doubts about Alito as they questioned the veteran federal appeals court judge during his 18 hours of testimony. Specter told reporters afterward that he expects a party-line vote in the committee and "with some deviations" on the Senate floor.

Republicans hold a 55-44 edge over Democrats in the Senate, with one independent.

The scheduling dispute came after the committee concluded the five-day hearing with 23 outside witnesses, divided between Alito supporters and opponents. Opponents warned that his confirmation could lead to diminished protection for civil rights and liberties and expanded presidential power.

Supporters representing a range of political viewpoints countered by echoing Alito's own testimony that he has no political agenda. They disputed criticisms of his record as tilting in favor of government and corporations and against individuals.

Immediately after the hearing closed, the coalition of groups opposing Alito said they would step up television advertising and other lobbying efforts over the weekend.

Specter discounted any possible impact. "I don't think there's any life in it as a political issue," he said.

Alito Hearings: Friday's Audio Highlights

Some of Friday's witnesses

From left: Civil right attorney Fred Gray; former president of NARAL Kate Michelman; professor Ronald Sullivan; and professor Amanda Frost testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about Judge Samuel Alito, Jan. 13, 2006. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

The Senate Judiciary Committee concluded a week of hearings on the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito on Friday with testimony from witnesses for and against the Supreme Court nominee. The panels included advocates, judges and former Alito law clerks and colleagues.

Supporters praised Alito's judiciousness and open-minded approach to cases. Opponents expressed concern about the nominee's respect for civil liberties and privacy rights and what they see as his overly deferential view toward the presidency regarding the authority of the chief executive.

A Judge in Whose Mold?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked one set of panelists which past Supreme Court justice they thought Alito would resemble if he is confirmed to the high court. Many said his approach would likely follow that of current conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. One panelist mentioned Justice John Marshall Harlan (1899–1971), the intellectual leader of the conservatives on the Warren Court, while another pointed to Justice Robert Jackson (1892-1954), an advocate of judicial restraint.

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