Alito: Senate Confirmation Hearings Begin - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/9/05-Washington, D.C.

Alito: Senate Confirmation Hearings Begin

Senate confirmation hearings began Monday on Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Bush, after a breakfast Monday with Alito, said the judge has conducted himself with "dignity and class" and said he is "eminently qualified" to be a justice.

"Sam has got the intellect necessary to bring a lot of class to that court," the president said.

"I hope the American people will be impressed by the process," said Bush, who called for a fair hearing.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans squared off Sunday on talk shows over the key issues that could arise during the hearings.

One Democratic senator warned that if Alito refuses to answer certain key questions -- particularly about abortion -- the likelihood of a filibuster would increase.

Alito "has said a whole number of extreme things," said Sen. Charles Schumer on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The New York Democrat said he had not yet made up his mind how to vote or whether he would encourage a filibuster.

Noting Alito's comments on a 1985 application for a position in the Reagan administration -- in which he said he believed the Constitution did not support a right to abortion -- Schumer said Alito must answer questions about those remarks.

"The worst thing that could happen to Alito is if he tries to duck the question," the senator said. "Seventy percent of Americans say they don't want a justice nominated who overturns Roe v. Wade. If he refused to answer questions, it would increase the chances of a filibuster, absolutely."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is the only woman on the Judiciary Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" she likely would support a filibuster "if I believed he was going to go in there and overthrow Roe," the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

Some Republican senators on the committee dismissed Alito's 1985 comments.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Alito "was applying for a job with the Reagan administration" and as such, expressed opinions consistent with the administration on the application.

"Things do change, and positions change," said Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. "He's advocating for a position in a conservative administration at that time -- in an administration. Now he's going on the Supreme Court of the United States if approved by the United States Senate.

"And these are different jobs altogether, and they have different parameters with them all together," he said on ABC's "This Week." "And he's not going to answer questions about how he's going to rule on a Roe-type case, and he shouldn't."

Alito, 55, received the American Bar Association's highest rating, but Schumer said the ABA does not consider judicial philosophy. Alito has been a federal appeals judge for 15 years.

"Nobody disputes his education and temperament," Schumer said. "But there are questions about his philosophy. He has said some extreme things."

Republicans disagreed.

"Alito is not an ideologue," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. "This is a man of integrity."

While abortion was sure to be a hot topic in this week's hearings, Alito's position on executive power could prove more relevant in light of the recent controversy over Bush's authorization of wiretaps on Americans suspected of having possible contact with terrorists.

"I've had the good opportunity to read through Judge Alito's opinions, more than 300 of those, and no one can read through those opinions and not find out that there's a basic hostility to individual and individual rights, a welcoming to executive authority and power even when it's excessive, and also the fact that he has so identified with major corporate interests at the expense of individual interests," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts.

"I think these are going to be overriding issues," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Some Republicans also said they are interested in Alito's position on presidential power.

"I think it's fair inquiry," said Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But "the most important fact," he said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer," "is the way Judge Alito would approach the critical jurisprudential issues that will come before him."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermonter who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, agreed but went further. Citing the quick support the judge drew from the extreme right of the GOP, he questioned "how independent Judge Alito will be."

"We want to know whether he will be a Supreme Court justice for all Americans, or will he be indebted to a narrow part of the Republican Party," he told "Late Edition."

Bush nominated Alito to fill the position of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor after White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew her name from consideration.

Miers got the nod when Bush nominated his original choice to fill O'Connor's seat, John Roberts, to be chief justice. Roberts was confirmed in September by a 78-22 vote.

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