Bitter Debate in Senate Continues on Alito
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. The Senate has started what could be a lengthy debate on Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. And, after just one day, it has already become as polarized as yesterday's party line committee vote on Alito. Still, Senate Democrats seem unlikely to stop him with a filibuster.
NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist opened the floor debate with these fighting words for those opposing the nominee.
BILL FRIST: Judge Alito deserves to become Justice Alito, and those who oppose him are smearing a decent and honorable man and imposing an unfair political standard on all judicial nominees.
WELNA: And a fight is what Frist got. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said Republicans hardly have standing to criticize Democrats for raising questions about Alito.
PATRICK LEAHY: And these complaints about the treatment of Judge Alito ring hollow after President Bush was forced by an extreme faction in his own Republican Party to withdraw his first choice for the vacancy, Harriet Miers.
WELNA: At the White House today, surrounded by a crowd of Alito's former clerks, President Bush insisted his nominee has no personal agenda for the high court.
GEORGE W: And I call on the United States Senate to put partisanship aside and give Judge Alito the up or down vote he deserves and to confirm him as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.
WELNA: But so far the only Senate Democrat who says he'll vote for Alito is Nebraska's Ben Nelson. Massachusetts' Edward Kennedy voiced concerns shared by many other Democrats about Alito's judicial independence.
EDWARD KENNEDY: We have a president who claims he has the authority to spy on Americans without the court order required by law. The record demonstrates that we cannot count on Judge Alito to blow the whistle when the president is out of bounds. He is a longstanding advocate of expanding executive power.
WELNA: And Democratic whip Dick Durbin argued senators should take into account the tiebreaking record of the justice whom Alito would be replacing.
DICK DURBIN: We have a special responsibility, because the vacancy that's being filled is a vacancy that will tip the scales of justice in America one way or the other way. What kind of cases did Sandra Day O'Connor provide the decisive vote in? Cases which safeguarded America's right to privacy in the area of reproductive freedom.
WELNA: Democrats contend Alito has a history of opposing a woman's right to abortion. But Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman, who supports abortion rights, warned against jumping to conclusions.
ARLEN SPECTER: No one knows with certainty how Judge Alito is going to vote. The cases are full of surprises. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was very much opposed to abortion rights before she came to the court. And she has been one of the foremost proponents of a woman's right to choose.
WELNA: Not one Democrat has yet threatened to block Alito with a filibuster, but Virginia Republican George Allen practically dared them to do so.
GEORGE ALLEN: My reaction is if they move forward with such a filibuster, my reaction is make my day. We'll enjoy pulling the constitutional trigger to allow Judge Alito a fair up or down vote.
WELNA: Democratic leader Harry Reid said his caucus has made no decision about a filibuster.
HARRY REID: I think Senator Allen should understand that the nuclear option is something that happened a long time ago, as did Schiavo and the other things that got no traction.
WELNA: Most Democrats will likely reject Alito, and perhaps a few Republicans who favor abortion rights. But Democrats have little appetite and probably lack the votes for a filibuster fight. They do plan to keep debating Alito's nomination, possibly through next week.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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