January 16, 2006

Democrats force delay on high court nominee vote

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Monday forced a
one-week delay on a vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, but the 55-year-old
conservative was still expected to be confirmed by the full
Republican-led Senate.

Still, the Democratic action ended hopes by Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, to have President
George W. Bush's nominee confirmed by the end of this week for
a seat on the nation's highest court.

"The Democrats' decision to delay ... is unjustified and
desperate partisan obstructionism," Frist said in a statement.

"Despite these tactics, Judge Alito remains on track to be
confirmed as Justice Alito," Frist said. "A Justice delayed
will not be a Justice denied."

Bush has nominated Alito to replace retiring Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor, who has often been the swing vote on the
nine-member Supreme Court on abortion and other social issues.
If confirmed, Alito could move the high court to the right.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter wanted his
panel, which held a confirmation hearing on Alito last week, to
vote on Tuesday on whether to urge the full Senate to confirm
Alito, a federal appeals judge the past 15 years.

But aides to the Pennsylvania Republican announced in a
brief statement that Democrats said they would invoke their
right to require a one-week delay if the committee met on
Tuesday on Alito.

So the committee will vote instead on January 24, with the
Senate beginning debate on the nominee by the next day,
according to the statement.

In a separate statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the
panel's top Democrat, said: "This arrangement accommodates
Republicans and Democrats."

Most of the 44 Senate Democrats and one independent are
expected to vote against Alito. But no Democrat has threatened
a filibuster, largely because they do not appear to have the 41
votes that would be needed in the 100-member Senate to sustain
such a procedural roadblock.

Alito responded to more than 700 questions during 18 hours
of questioning at his confirmation hearing, and afterward some
senators gave him additional questions in writing. Postponement
will give Alito more time to respond to written questions and
senators more time to consider his answers.