January 31, 2006

Bush nominee Alito sworn in at Supreme Court

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Samuel Alito was sworn in as a
Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, surviving one of the
narrowest Senate confirmation votes in a century to become the
second conservative put on the court by President Bush.

Alito took the constitutional and judicial oaths from Chief
Justice John Roberts, Bush's first Supreme Court appointee, in
a private ceremony at the court, a spokeswoman said.

Bush appointed Roberts and Alito after promising to select
justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the
court's two most conservative members. The choice of Alito
sparked concern among Democrats and some liberal groups that
his former stands against abortion and on other hot-button
social issues would push the court to the right.

After weeks of debate, the Senate confirmed Alito, 55, a
federal appeals judge since 1990, on a largely party-line vote
of 58-42, making him the 110th member of the nation's highest

He replaces Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate
conservative, who retired. He is expected to align himself with
the court's conservative bloc and could affect the outcome of
votes on key social issues.

Bush said: "Sam Alito is a brilliant and fair-minded judge
who strictly interprets the Constitution and laws and does not
legislate from the bench."

But assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of
Illinois, who helped head the opposition, said: "I fear on this
January morning in Washington a chill wind blows -- one that
could snuff out the dying light of Sandra Day O'Connor's
Supreme Court legacy of measure and moderation."

Successful Supreme Court nominees have traditionally
received broad bipartisan support, but Alito ended up with one
of the lowest votes for confirmation in the past 100 years, and
the fewest since Thomas was confirmed 52-48 in 1991 after
accusations he sexually harassed a former aide.

Four Democrats joined 54 Republicans in voting to confirm
Alito; one Republican, one independent and 40 Democrats opposed

In September, Roberts was confirmed 78-22.

Bush nominated Alito in October after an earlier choice,
White House counsel Harriet Miers, withdrew after complaints
from conservatives she was not conservative enough.

While Democrats were unable to stop Alito, they hope to
make Bush's court picks an issue in this year's congressional
elections. Republicans say they would welcome such a debate.

At his confirmation hearing, Democrats wrestled with Alito
over his view of presidential powers, which they say is overly
broad. Alito deflected questions about the legality of the
administration's domestic spying program without warrants, but
said no president is above the law.

Critics also feared Alito would embrace an ideological
agenda, but backers noted he vowed to administer justice for
all and received the American Bar Association's top rating.

Though he opposed abortion while in the Reagan
administration two decades ago, Alito promised to respect legal
precedent, which includes the 1973 Supreme Court decision that
legalized abortion. Still, to the consternation of foes, he did
not say how he would rule.


Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said, "I must
say that I wish the president was in a position to do more than
claim a partisan victory tonight."

Senate Majority Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said,
"In every respect, Judge Alito is a nominee who meets the
highest standards of excellence."

Frist said Alito deserves a seat on the Supreme Court,
which he described as being "reserved for few -- but that
impacts millions."

O'Connor's seat has long been viewed as pivotal since for
years she has been the swing vote in a series of 5-4 decisions
on social issues. Roberts replaced a fellow conservative, the
late William Rehnquist, so he did not change the balance on the

Alito and Roberts, 51, appear certain to help shape the
American way of life for years as key figures in the legacy of
the 43rd president. Bush won two terms as president vowing to
put staunch conservatives on the Supreme Court, the nation's
final legal arbiter.