Alito Confirmed as Newest Supreme Court Justice
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Bush got his second Supreme Court justice on the bench today, as Judge Samuel Alito was sworn in to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Alito's private swearing-in ceremony came shortly after the U.S. Senate confirmed him on a vote of 58 to 42. It was one of the smallest margins of victory in recent history for a Supreme Court nominee. Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Just as they did confirming Chief Justice John Roberts four months ago, the Senate's 100 members solemnly took their seats for today's roll call vote. Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens announced the result.
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): On this vote, the ayes are 58, the nays are 42. The president's nomination of Samuel A. Alito, Jr. of New Jersey to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is confirmed.
WELNA: Majority Leader Bill Frist did not even wait for the vote to begin before declaring victory.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): To President Bush, I say thank you for nominating such an exceptionally qualified individual as Sam Alito to serve on the Supreme Court. To my Senate colleagues, I say well done to the super majority of senators who joined yesterday to elevate principle above partisan politics and defeat an unjustified filibuster of this nomination.
WELNA: President Bush, for his part, praised Alito after the vote as a man of deep character and integrity who will, as Mr. Bush put it, make all Americans proud as a justice on our highest court. But only four Democrats voted for Alito, the fewest members of a president's opposition party ever to confirm a modern-day high court justice. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions lamented the divided vote.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): We should've had a far higher vote, and the reason we did not is because the Democratic leader made it a leadership issue, and he urged his colleagues to vote no, and that's why we had far more no votes than we would've had otherwise.
WELNA: That Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has insisted he gave no instructions to fellow Democrats on how to vote. But Reid left no doubt about his own deep opposition to Alito.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): President Bush was not obligated to nominate a clone of Justice O'Connor, but this president has no mandate to move the Supreme Court and the American law in a radical rightward direction. That is precisely what replacing Justice O'Connor with Judge Alito will accomplish.
WELNA: But Illinois Democrat Barack Obama said after the vote that members of his party can't expect President Bush to offer more moderate nominees when he has 55 Republicans in the Senate, all but one of whom voted for Alito today.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): That's why it's so important, if Democrats want to have a different set of justices, to make sure that we win elections.
WELNA: Republicans insisted they have no assurances how Alito might rule as an associate justice. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who strongly opposes abortion, said he hopes Alito would support outlawing abortion.
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): This is an issue that I think is of central importance to the country, and I would be disappointed if he would vote against that. The fact of the matter is, I don't know how he would vote today.
WELNA: But if Republicans voted their hopes today, most Democrats voted their fears. Minority Whip Dick Durbin said he did not want to take a chance by voting for Alito.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I may be wrong about Judge Alito. If I am, no one will be more pleased. But I fear on this January morning in the Senate chambers, a chill wind blows, a chill wind which will snuff out the dying light of Sandra Day O'Connor's Supreme Court legacy.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.