Monday, December 12, 2005

Republicans Plan to Use "Nuclear Option"

US Senate leader says Alito vote may need rules change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Majority Leader Bill Frist said on Sunday he is prepared to change the U.S. Senate's rules if Democrats seek to block the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Yes," the Tennessee Republican said on "Fox News Sunday," when asked if he would move to impose the so-called "nuclear option" to restrict use of the filibuster, in which members of a minority party can block a vote by using the right to virtually unlimited debate.

Barring the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees would require approval of a rule change by a majority of the full Senate in which Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats. Democrats have said they would wait until after Alito's questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January before deciding whether they will use the procedural roadblock to stop a vote on his nomination.

President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a conservative appeals court judge, to replace the more moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring from the Supreme Court.

O'Connor often has been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other social issues and many Senate Democrats and advocacy groups have raised concerns, largely based on memos Alito wrote two decades ago, that he would oppose abortion and efforts to ease discrimination against members of minority groups.

Conservative groups have dismissed such opposition to Alito as knee-jerk and predictable.

Alito "has a modest judicial temperament," Frist said, citing his extensive record in 15 years as an appeals court judge.

"I have stood from day one on principle that these Supreme Court justices -- nominees deserve an up or down vote, and it would be absolutely wrong to deny him that. And that's what the constitutional option is," he said.

Leading Republican senators have spoken out repeatedly against the possibility of a filibuster. It takes 60 votes to stop the extended debate, while only a majority is needed to approve a nomination.

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who will preside over Alito's confirmation hearings as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week he saw no "extraordinary circumstances" that could provoke a filibuster against Alito.