Senate Panel Set to Vote on Alito The Senate Judiciary Committee votes Tuesday on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Alito's confirmation is anticipated despite objections from some Democrats.
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Senate Panel Set to Vote on Alito

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Senate Panel Set to Vote on Alito

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Senate Panel Set to Vote on Alito

Senate Panel Set to Vote on Alito

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The Senate Judiciary Committee votes Tuesday on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Alito's confirmation is anticipated despite objections from some Democrats.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) gavels four days of Alito hearings to a close on Jan. 12. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is at Specter's left. Tim Sloane/Getty Images hide caption

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Tim Sloane/Getty Images

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

We're going to talk more about this with NPR Legal Affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg who has been covering the hearings over Alito. Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We're expecting a party line vote today in the Judiciary Committee which would mean that Alito moves on to the full Senate but not with unanimous approval. What's that mean?

TOTENBERG: Well, this is very rare. Chief Justice Roberts as a nominee got three Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. Justices Ginsburg and Brier, when they were nominated, were overwhelmingly approved, both in committee and on the floor. When Robert Bork was defeated in committee one Republican, Arlen Specter joined the Democrats in voting against him and then six Republicans voted against him on the floor. And when Clarence Thomas was before the committee, one Democrat, Dennis DeConcini defected.

INSKEEP: So what's the difference between Alito and these other nominees who got some support from the other party?

TOTENBERG: And President Nixon's nomination of Clement Haynsworth in 1969 was defeated with the help of 19 Republican votes, G. Harold Carswell, 13 Republican votes. Clarence Thomas in '91 got through with the help of 11 Democrats. Today though, the Republican Party is a lot more uniform, the conservative and the Democrats are a lot more uniformly liberal.

INSKEEP: So, it appears that Democrats are nearly all, maybe not all, but nearly all against Alito, which means the Democrats could probably muster 40 votes in the Senate which, in theory, would be enough to hold a filibuster and block the nomination entirely. Is that likely to happen?

TOTENBERG: It's not likely to happen. There may be as many as 40 or a couple more votes against Alito. It's unclear yet what the vote's going to be, but it's one thing to vote against a nominee on the floor. It's another thing to hold up a Supreme Court nomination with a filibuster and with the Republicans threatening to pull the trigger on the nuclear option, so called nuclear option, in order to prevail there, they need to keep all the Democrats and get six Republican votes. So it's just not going to happen.

INSKEEP: President Bush has said he wants an up or down vote. It sounds like you're saying that's what he is going to get.

TOTENBERG: That's what he is going to get.

INSKEEP: Now, John Roberts, the President's last nominee to get to a full Senate vote, got quite a few Democrats to vote for him, 22 Democrats.

TOTENBERG: Right.

INSKEEP: It sounds like you're saying that Alito is not going to get anywhere near that number.

TOTENBERG: And in the Thomas nomination, for example, there were a couple of Democrats who voted for Thomas and who were promptly defeated in primary or general election.

INSKEEP: You said the Democrats feel that they got stiffed by Alito. There's that old saying that Supreme Court nominees say the absolute minimum that they have to in hearings in order to get confirmed. It sounds like you're saying Alito said just enough and not a bit more.

TOTENBERG: That's about right. And please remember, the Republicans have 55 votes in the Senate. If it were reversed and the Democrats controlled the Senate, the story might be very different.

INSKEEP: NPR Legal Affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thanks.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can read more analysis of the Alito confirmation battle by going to our Web site, NPR.org.

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