MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. It was a party line vote today in the Senate Judiciary Committee approving President Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The matter now moves to the Senate floor, where a vote could come as early as this Friday. Coming up, we'll hear how both sides of the abortion debate are thinking about a court with Alito. First, here's NPR's Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG reporting:
All ten Republicans voted to approve the Alito nomination and all eight Democrats voted against it. The Republicans said Alito is superbly qualified, that seven of the judges who sat with him on the Federal Appeals Court during the last 15 years gave unprecedented testimony to his fairness and decency.
But Democrats said Alito's record in the Reagan Justice Department, on the bench and his testimony convinced them that in replacing the moderate justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Alito would tip the balance of the court to the far right. Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy noted that seven of the nine current justices are Republican appointees and that he'd voted for eight of them, including President Bush's chief justice nominee, John Roberts. The Alito nomination, he said, is different.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): The president is in the midst of a radical realignment of the powers of the government and its intrusiveness -- its intrusiveness into the private lives of Americans. And I believe this nomination is part of that plan.
TOTENBERG: Republican Orrin Hatch pointed to the court's two Democratic nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, whom he and most other Republicans supported despite the fact that they were, as Hatch put it, social liberals. But Senator Edward Kennedy countered that President Clinton picked Ginsburg and Breyer after Hatch told him that other, more liberal potential nominees would run into difficulty, while Ginsburg and Breyer were moderate enough to win easy confirmation. Republican Jon Kyl, however, suggested that Ginsburg and Breyer were more liberal than Alito is conservative.
Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Why is this committee divided over Judge Alito? It cannot be because of his qualifications or temperament, but only because our Democratic colleagues don't think he'll vote the right way, the way that they think he should, on some cases. I fear a very bad precedent is being set today.
TOTENBERG: Democrat Dianne Feinstein answered Kyl, suggesting that the president and his allies have so polarized the country that this is a very different time than it was a decade ago.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): If one is pro-choice in this day and age, in this structure, one can't vote for Judge Alito. It is simply that simple.
TOTENBERG: There's more than even abortion at stake in the Alito nomination, she added.
Senator FEINSTEIN: And I came to the conclusion that the fundamental right to liberty is at question in this nominee, and it has nothing to do with his qualifications and his credentials. But it does have something to do with how far we are willing to see this court move to the right and out of the mainstream of legal thinking in this great country. And I, for one, really believe that there comes a time when you just have to stand up.
TOTENBERG: Republican Lindsey Graham responded this way.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): With little chance of stopping Judge Alito confirmation to the Supreme Court, Senate Democratic leaders urged their members Tuesday to vote against him in an effort to lay the groundwork for making a campaign issue of the decisions on the court. I'll just tell you right now, we welcome that debate on our side. We'll clean your clock.
TOTENBERG: Republican John Cornyn then sought to saddle the Democrats with some of the most unpopular decisions made in recent years, mainly by courts other than the Supreme Court.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): They've favored things like an end to traditional marriage between one man and one woman, continuation of the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion, and abolition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Judge Alito's detractors oppose his nomination because he will not go along with this agenda. When they say he's outside the mainstream, what they really mean, as Senator Hatch has said, is he's outside the liberal mainstream.
TOTENBERG: Democrat Dick Durbin shot back with this observation.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): This was not supposed to be about the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. We were supposed to be meeting on the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, a woman trusted by the president, still serving as general counsel in the White House. And what happened to her nomination? We know what happened. She didn't pass the litmus test of the extreme right of the Republican Party, the same groups that gave Harriet Miers the back of their hand embraced Sam Alito.
TOTENBERG: The sweet murmurings of the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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