Confirmation Hearings: Democrats 'Troubled By Alito's Answers' - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/11/06-Washington, D.C.

Confirmation Hearings: Democrats 'Troubled By Alito's Answers'

 Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito returned to the hot seat Wednesday, and the Senate Judiciary Committee's leading Democrat said he was "troubled by some of the answers" given Tuesday by Alito.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a short statement before questioning resumed that he and other Democrats planned to press Alito on purported "inconsistencies" regarding the nominee's past writings and personal finances.

His comments came on the panel's second day of questioning for Alito, whom President Bush nominated October 31 to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a swing vote upholding abortion rights.

Questioning resumed Wednesday morning with Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and was expected to last more than seven hours.

Lawmakers covered familiar territory Wednesday, raising many topics discussed by Alito the day before. When pressed by Durbin, the judge again refused to say whether the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should be revisited by the Supreme Court.

Despite Durbin's repeated attempts, Alito would not say the case was "settled law." Chief Justice John Roberts used that term to describe Roe v. Wade's impact during his confirmation hearings in September.

Alito instead reiterated his support of precedent, noting Roe v. Wade has survived many attempts to overturn it, calling it an important precedent.

"When a decision is challenged and reaffirmed, it increases its value," said Alito. "The more times it happens, the more respect it has."

Durbin questioned whether Alito would have an "open mind" on the issue, as he promised lawmakers Tuesday, and said the nominee's past statements reveal "a mind that sadly is closed in some instances."

On Tuesday, Alito was largely successful in avoiding controversy in questioning, giving assured answers to a range of legal and personal issues.

In a session that spanned more than nine hours, he never explicitly refused to respond to a question, but sidestepped addressing specific issues, including whether Bush was legally justified in ordering wiretaps without warrants.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who supports abortion rights, launched the questioning by seeking Alito's views on whether repeated previous rulings should prevent the right to abortion from being overturned. Alito said precedents can be overturned only in special cases.

He said the Constitution provides clear language on issues like freedom of speech, but is less clear on abortion.

Some of the most pointed questions on the abortion issue came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the only woman on the panel.

Feinstein pressed for examples of what would qualify as a "special justification" for overturning a decision.

Alito responded by citing scenarios in which a rule "is proven to be unworkable" or when "changes in the situation in the real world can call for the overruling of a precedent."

He also said he does "agree that the Constitution protects a right to privacy." That right is part of the legal underpinning for Roe v. Wade.

Alito, 55, told senators his role in recent years as a federal judge compels him to put his personal views aside. He added that if confronted with an abortion case on the Supreme Court, "the first question I would ask" would be whether precedent should prevail.

But Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, called Alito's unwillingness to directly address Roe v. Wade "troubling" and said he could only conclude the nominee would overrule the precedent if given the chance.

Presidential authority

The first five senators to question Alito on Tuesday all asked bout executive power, but he avoided giving specifics on whether Bush had the power to unilaterally decide to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Bush acknowledged last month that he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps on some Americans without court approval in the months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"No person is above the law, and that means the president, and that means the Supreme Court," Alito said.

He added the president has no authority to order anyone to violate a congressional law, including one banning torture of captured soldiers or suspected terrorists.

But he said some issues related to presidential authority fall into a "twilight zone" that would require examination on a case-by-case basis.

White House praise

During a midday break, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy said, "Americans have no better answers than we had at the outset of these hearings."

The White House thinks otherwise, with spokesman Scott McClellan telling reporters, "I think Judge Alito very clearly summed up the foundation of his judicial philosophy."

Specter said Monday that he hoped the committee could vote on Alito's confirmation next week and the full Senate -- where the GOP controls 55 seats -- could vote the following week.

Other issues:

  • Kennedy cited a 2004 case in which Alito disagreed with the majority that officers in Pennsylvania could be sued after conducting a strip search on a drug suspect's 10-year-old daughter. The judge said he was not happy with what the girl endured, but that more children could be abused if drug dealers knew they could hide evidence on youngsters.

  • The nominee refused to say how he would have voted in the 2000 Bush v. Gore high court appeal that stopped the Florida vote recount, thereby giving the presidency to Bush.

  • Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, asked Alito about Congress' ability to protect children from Internet pornography without violating the right to free speech. "It is a difficult question," Alito said. "There needs to be additional effort in this area, probably by all branches of government."
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