January 25, 2006

Senate set to debate high court nominee

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate begins debate on
Wednesday on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a
55-year-old conservative likely to soon join the nation's
highest court.

A day after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Alito
on a party-line vote of 10-8, the full Republican-led Senate
starts its consideration of President George W. Bush's nominee
to the lifetime post.

A Senate confirmation vote is expected as early as the end
of this week, and with Republicans holding 55 of 100 seats in
the chamber, Alito appears certain to be approved.

If confirmed, Alito, a federal appeals judge since 1990,
would replace moderate conservative Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor, and could help move the nine-member high court to the
right on abortion, civil rights and other issues.

"We urge the Senate to move forward with a swift up-or-down
vote so that he can begin serving on our nation's highest
court," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Republican backers have hailed Alito as a mainstream
conservative who had received the American Bar Association's
top rating. But Democratic critics say he has staked out some
extreme positions on such matters as abortion rights, civil
rights and presidential powers.

So far, just one of the Senate's 44 Democrats -- Ben Nelson
of Nebraska -- has announced he will vote for Alito. All but a
handful of other Democrats are expected to oppose him.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, "It is
unfortunate the president made such a divisive nomination."

"At a time when the president is abusing his power at every
turn, I cannot vote to confirm a judge who won't be an
independent check on the executive branch," Reid said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania
Republican, said he believed Alito was qualified.

"His personal background is exemplary. His professional
qualifications are outstanding. His educational achievements
are of the highest order," Specter said.

Specter said he believes Alito's colleagues on the 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals answered many critics when they
testified at his confirmation hearing that "he is not an
ideologue and that he does have an open mind."