Sunday, November 06, 2005

Democrat says Alito unlikely to face a filibuster

Democrat says Alito unlikely to face a filibuster

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key Democrat said on Sunday that he expects the full Republican-led Senate to vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito without the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

But Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said a decision would not be made about such a possible procedural roadblock until more lawmakers meet with President George W. Bush's conservative nominee to the nation's highest court.

"My instinct is we should commit" to an up-or-down vote by the full Senate, said Biden, a member of the Judiciary Committee. "I think the probability is that will happen.

"I think that judgment won't be made ... until the bulk of us have had a chance to actually see him and speak to him," Biden told ABC's "This Week."

The committee is set to begin a confirmation hearing on Alito, a federal appeals judge the past 15 years, on January 9.

If confirmed, Alito would replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who has often been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other social issues.

"What's at stake here ... is whether or not we are going to put a person on the Supreme Court who is sensitive to the most basic and important responsibility of the court: protecting our rights and freedoms," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.


Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" program, Durbin said: "Some of the opinions that he's handed down are controversial decisions: deciding that the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply to state employees; authorizing a strip search in a situation involving a mother and her 10-year-old daughter; questions involving the rights of privacy."

A simple Senate majority is needed for confirmation. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate seats but 60 would be required to end a filibuster, a procedural ploy that allows a Senate minority to block a nomination.

Bush nominated Alito last week after a rebellion in the president's conservative base helped prompt the withdrawal of his previous pick, White House counsel Harriet Miers.

While there were complaints Miers had failed to impress many senators, Alito received a favorable review after beginning a series of get-acquainted meetings with lawmakers.

"A large number of them are favorably disposed," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I'm very favorably disposed but the important thing is the Democrats." lead to filibuster, but they're certainly reserving all of their options," McCain told "Fox News Sunday."

Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a leading

liberal voice in Congress, said "it's possible" he will support Alito but first wants answers.

"The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic for this nominee," Kennedy told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have to find out why ...."

McCain and other members of the "Gang of 14" -- seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- met last week and agreed it was too early to determine if it would permit a filibuster.

Last May, the largely moderate group averted a Senate showdown over some conservative Bush judicial nominees, clearing the way for the confirmation of a number of them while preserving the right of Democrats to filibuster others under "extraordinary circumstances."

(Additional reporting by Philip Barbara)