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3 Judiciary Democrats Turn Their Backs on Alito

Senators from Illinois, Colorado and Vermont say they won't vote for the high court nominee.

January 20, 2006|John Chase | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Raising questions about Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s stances on issues like executive power and abortion, Sen. Richard J. Durbin said Thursday he would not support Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.

The Illinois Democrat's announcement, made to a packed hall at Northwestern University's School of Law in Chicago, coincided with similar statements from Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Ken Salazar of Colorado. Leahy and Salazar supported President Bush's previous nominee, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.; Durbin did not.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve Alito's nomination on a party-line vote next week and move the nomination to the full Senate, where a confirmation vote is expected by the end of the week.

In explaining why he would not vote for Alito in committee, Durbin said the federal appellate judge would be replacing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often was a crucial swing vote on the court.

Although acknowledging that Alito was a qualified legal scholar, Durbin said his views on privacy, abortion and executive power were out of step with mainstream public opinion. He also said Alito was evasive in answering questions on those topics and others during last week's confirmation hearings.

Durbin was particularly critical of what he called Alito's "deference to established institutions over individuals" and argued that Alito "failed to show that he will protect the average American from the overreaching hand of government."

"I'm concerned ... that what Judge Alito is going to do to the Supreme Court is to make a significant change when it comes to our personal freedoms and our privacy," Durbin said. "Once having lost those, I don't know how we reclaim them. And all the laws passed by Congress can just be wiped away by a Supreme Court decision."

In their announcements, Leahy and Salazar questioned whether Alito would stand up to a president seeking to exceed his legal authority.

"Can this president, or any president, order illegal spying on Americans? Can this president, or any president, authorize torture, in defiance of our criminal statutes and our international agreements?" Leahy asked in his statement.

Salazar said in a statement that Alito "would place too much power in the hands of the president of the United States."

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