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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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.