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Confirmation hearings begin for Alito

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito told U.S. senators today that good judges don't have an agenda, don't look for partisan outcomes and always "do what the law requires" as the Senate opened hearings on President George W. Bush's choice for the high court.

"A judge can't have any agenda. A judge can't have a preferred outcome in any particular case," Alito told the Judiciary Committee in a brief statement in which he made a distinction between judges and attorneys working for clients.

Questioning by the committee members is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow.

President Bush sent Alito off to his confirmation hearings today with praise, a good-luck handshake and a demand that senators "give this man a fair vote."

Alito, who would be the 110th justice in U.S. history, is likely to face close questioning by the Judiciary Committee on abortion and other contentious issues. But first, he got some last-minute encouragement from the president over breakfast at the White House.

Speaking to reporters afterward in the Rose Garden, the president called Alito "eminently qualified" and said, "Sam's got the intellect necessary to bring a lot of class to that court.

Alito, a conservative, 15-year member of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, was chosen by Bush on Oct. 31 to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the high court.

O'Connor, a justice since 1981, has been a decisive swing vote on abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action.

"My hope of course is that the Senate bring dignity to the process and give this man a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor," Bush said. He added: "Sam, good luck to you."

Ten-minute opening statements by the Judiciary Committee's 18 members are likely to consume much of today's opening session, with direct questioning of Alito getting fully under way beginning tomorrow. The hearings were expected to last at least two days.

Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said yesterday that he would wrap up the hearings this week. He has called for a committee vote by Jan. 17.

Republican leaders hope for confirmation by the full Senate on Jan. 20, but Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, would not promise the schedule would hold.

Alito was Bush's second choice to replace O'Connor. White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew from consideration after conservatives questioned her judicial philosophy and qualifications for the Supreme Court.

"The challenge for Judge Alito in the course of these hearings is to demonstrate that he will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans and serve as an effective check on government overreaching," Leahy was to say in his opening statement. "The president has not helped his cause by withdrawing his earlier nomination of Harriet Miers in the face of criticism from an extreme faction of his own party."

Alito, 55, previously worked as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer in the Reagan administration.

Republicans say there is no reason to delay or filibuster Alito. Senators who have met privately with Alito say he told them that his 1985 written comments maintaining there was no constitutional right to abortion were only part of a job application for the Reagan administration, which opposed abortion.

He wrote in a separate legal memo while at the Justice Department that the department should try to chip away at abortion rights rather than mount an all-out assault.

"We will ask you: 'Do you still "personally believe very strongly that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion?"'" Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York planned to tell Alito in his opening statement. "We will ask: 'Do you view elevation to the Supreme Court, where you will no longer be bound by high court precedent, as the long-sought opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade, as you stated in 1985?'"

Specter, said in an advance copy of his opening statement, "This hearing will give Judge Alito the public forum to address the issue, as he has with senators in private meetings, that his personal views and prior advocacy will not determine his judicial decision."

No matter what Alito says, some Democrats will oppose him, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, predicted in his opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

"I am reluctantly inclined to the view that you and any other nominee of this president for the Supreme Court start with no more than 13 votes in this committee, and only 78 votes in the full Senate with a solid, immovable and unpersuadable block of at least 22 votes against you, no matter what you say or do," the statement said.

Specter, along with several Democrats, also told Alito before the hearing that he would press him on his feelings about presidential power during wartime.

The same senators who will question Alito will also hold hearings later this year on whether Bush had the authority to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on conversations involving suspected terrorists in the United States without getting a court-ordered warrant.

Bush contended that his constitutional powers and the prewar resolution gave him that legal authority.

One of Alito's Democratic critics, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, said he had seen tendencies by Alito to defer to the executive branch.

"In an era when the White House is abusing power, has authorized torture and is spying on American citizens, I find your support for an all-powerful executive branch and almost unlimited power for government agents to be deeply troubling," Kennedy said in an excerpt from his opening statement.

Alito calls online-porn issue 'difficult'
High court nominee also pressed on privacy, abortion, executive powers, court precedent. 01.10.06

Alito hearings scheduled for Jan. 9
If confirmed, judge could alter Supreme Court's direction on religious-liberty questions. 01.06.06


Online symposium: Samuel Alito & the First Amendment

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