January 24, 2006

US Senate committee set to vote on Alito

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative federal appeals judge
Samuel Alito appeared likely on Tuesday to move a step closer
toward Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, which he
could end up pushing to the right.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was expected to split along
party lines, 10-8, in urging approval by the Republican-led
Senate of President George W. Bush's 55-year-old candidate.

The full 100-member Senate was to begin debate on
Wednesday, with a confirmation vote anticipated before Bush's
state of the union address to Congress next Tuesday.

If confirmed, Alito would replace retiring Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who often has been the
swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion, civil rights
and other social issues.

Public support for confirmation of Alito, a federal appeals
judge since 1990, grew slightly to 54 percent after his Senate
hearing this month by the Judiciary Committee, a poll released
on Monday showed.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey also found that only about
one in three Americans believe Alito would vote, as critics
fear, to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized

At Alito's hearing, Republicans hailed him as a mainstream
conservative who had received the American Bar Association's
top rating.

But Democrats charged Alito had staked out some extreme
positions and voiced fear he would fail to provide an effective
check to what they described as Bush's bid for expanded
presidential powers.

The Senate confirmation vote on Alito was expected to be
far closer than the 78-22 one John Roberts received in
September in being confirmed as U.S. chief justice.

In fact, most of the 44 Senate Democrats and one
independent are expected to vote against Alito. But none have
threatened a filibuster since they do not appear to have the
votes to sustain such a procedural roadblock.

Bush noted on Monday that 14 senators -- seven Democrats
and seven Republicans -- agreed last year to oppose filibusters
of judicial nominees unless there are "extraordinary

"There has been no sign of any extraordinary circumstance
except for this extraordinary thing -- he's extraordinarily
capable to serve on the Supreme Court," Bush said in fielding
questions at Kansas State University.