WASHINGTON (AP) — Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. became the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, confirmed with the most partisan victory in modern history after a fierce battle over the future direction of the high court.
The Senate voted 58-42 to confirm Alito — a former federal appellate judge, U.S. attorney, and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration from New Jersey — as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a moderate swing vote on the court.
All but one of the Senate's majority Republicans voted for his confirmation, while all but four of the Democrats voted against Alito. Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island voted no, while Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia voted yes.
That is the smallest number of senators in the president's opposing party to support a Supreme Court justice in modern history. Chief Justice John Roberts got 22 Democratic votes last year, and Justice Clarence Thomas — who was confirmed in 1991 on a 52-48 vote — got 11 Democratic votes.
Alito watched the final vote from the White House's Roosevelt Room with his family. He was to be sworn in by Roberts at the Supreme Court in a private ceremony later in the day, in plenty of time for him to appear with President Bush at the State of the Union speech Tuesday evening.
Alito will be ceremonially sworn in a second time at a White House East Room appearance on Wednesday.
With the confirmation vote, O'Connor's resignation became official. She resigned in July but agreed to remain until her successor was confirmed. She was in Arizona Tuesday teaching a class at the University of Arizona law school.
Underscoring the rarity of a Supreme Court justice confirmation, senators answered the roll by standing one by one at their desks as their names were called, instead of voting and leaving the chamber.
Alito and Roberts are the first two new members of the Supreme Court since 1994.
Alito is a longtime federal appeals judge, having been confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on April 27, 1990. Before that, he worked as New Jersey's U.S. attorney and as a lawyer in the Justice Department for the conservative Reagan administration.
It was his Reagan-era work that caused the most controversy during his three-month candidacy for the high court.