January 24, 2006

Senate panel approves Alito

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A sharply divided Senate Judiciary
Committee on Tuesday approved President George W. Bush's
nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, moving the
55-year-old conservative a step closer toward confirmation by
the full Republican-led Senate.

On a party-line vote of 10-8, the committee sent the
nomination of Alito to the 100-member Senate. The full chamber
is to begin debate on Wednesday, with a confirmation vote as
early as the end of this week.

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

Before the vote, Republicans hailed Alito as a fair-minded,
mainstream conservative who had received the American Bar
Association's top rating.

But Democrats charged Alito had staked out some extreme
positions on such matters as abortion and civil rights and
feared he would not provide an effective check on presidential

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top
Democrat, said Bush was "claiming power to illegally spy on
Americans, to allow actions that violate our values and laws
protecting human rights, and to detain U.S. citizens and others
on his say so."

"So I will not lend my support to an effort by this
president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to
the right and to remove the final check within our democracy,"
Leahy said.

Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a moderate Pennsylvania
Republican who has raised his own concerns about Bush's
domestic spying program, opened the case for confirmation of
Alito by telling his colleagues, "I think he is qualified."

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

Specter also 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."