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Democrats Split on Filibuster to Protest Alito Confirmation

The Nation

January 28, 2006|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Democrats lined up Friday for and against a last-ditch effort to block the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr., with some supporting the call for a filibuster even as they acknowledged it was unlikely to succeed.

"Everyone knows there are not enough votes to support a filibuster," said Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who said he would nonetheless vote against ending debate on the president's choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Reid, who had expressed reservations about a filibuster, described his decision to join the effort as a kind of protest vote against Alito, a veteran federal appeals court judge from New Jersey whose confirmation to the high court is expected Tuesday.

"I think it is an opportunity for people to express their opinion as to what a bad choice it was," Reid told reporters after a speech to the National Conference of Mayors.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who along with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for the filibuster, returned to Washington from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to lead the effort. In a speech on the Senate floor, he accused President Bush of trying to make the Supreme Court more ideologically conservative.

"The critical question here is why are we so compelled to accept, in such a rush, a nominee who has so clearly been chosen for political and ideological reasons," said Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to Bush.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan derided the filibuster effort by mocking Kerry's presence at the Davos forum, despite the fact that Republican senators also attended.

"This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland," McClellan said at his daily briefing for reporters. "I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps."

Under rules of the 100-member Senate, it takes 60 votes to end a debate; a filibuster occurs when at least 41 senators block action by refusing to end the debate. While that many Democrats are likely to oppose Alito's confirmation, several of them won't support a filibuster.

At least 53 of the Senate's 55 Republicans plan to vote for Alito's confirmation, easily giving the nominee the majority he needs. At least three Democrats have said they will also support his confirmation.

Democrats are split, however, on the wisdom of pursuing a filibuster. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), long undecided on Alito, announced Friday that he would oppose the filibuster. He was joined by Sens. Ken Salazar of Colorado and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

"While I personally cannot support Judge Alito's confirmation on the Supreme Court, there is not a smoking gun in his past that would warrant 'extraordinary circumstances' and subsequently a filibuster against his nomination," Pryor said in a statement.

Both of California's Democratic senators -- Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- said they would support the filibuster. That vote is set for Monday.

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