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Democrats Cast Wide Net Seeking Alito Flaw

The senators' critique showed the party's difficulty at coalescing around a single, clear argument against his high court nomination.

January 11, 2006|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

"When someone becomes a judge, you really have to put aside the things that you did as a lawyer at prior points in your legal career and think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues," Alito said.

Kennedy, in his exchanges with Alito over executive power, countered that his judicial decisions followed the "larger pattern" of his writings and speeches before he joined the courts.

Two new national surveys found that about half of Americans backed Alito's confirmation. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey released Monday, 49% said they supported his confirmation, 30% said they opposed it and 21% were uncertain; an ABC/Washington Post survey released Monday recorded similar results.

In both surveys, Alito's support was slightly lower than the level recorded for Roberts as his hearings began in September.

Operatives on both sides generally agree that, absent some significant revelation or development at the confirmation hearings, three of the 55 Senate Republicans might consider voting against Alito: Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

With Alito virtually assured of winning a Senate majority, stopping the nomination would probably require a Democratic filibuster. In turn, that maneuver would probably revive an effort by Senate Republicans to ban use of the filibuster for judicial nominations.

At this point, the odds are against the Democrats attempting a filibuster, partly because too many of their senators from "red" states where Bush is strongest would likely resist such an effort. Sustaining a filibuster would require 41 Senate votes; Democrats hold 44 Senate seats and usually receive support from independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont.

One sign of difficulty for Democrats hoping to block Alito came late Tuesday when David DiMartino, the spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), said the lawmaker had heard nothing that "seems to be near a disqualifying issue" for the nominee through the first day of hearings.

Yet prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), haven't foreclosed a filibuster attempt. Although the Democratic enthusiasm for resisting Roberts palpably waned after the first day of questioning, Alito's long record seemed to provide plenty of fuel for a sustained argument through the rest of the Judiciary Committee's hearings -- and into the full Senate's debate on him.

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