Thursday, December 08, 2005

Senate Democrats press for papers on Alito

Senate Democrats press for papers on Alito

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats on Wednesday pushed for the Justice Department to release more documents about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as some liberal advocacy groups prepared to come out against his nomination.

"For us to remain on the proposed schedule for this nomination, we will need your promptest action on these suggestions," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The confirmation hearings are set to begin on January 9.

Leahy pushed for the release of documents the administration has determined are not covered by a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the Senate was entitled to see the documents, or in some cases edited portions of them, and could handle them on a confidential basis if warranted.

Alito, an appeals court judge picked by President George W. Bush for a lifetime appointment on the high court, has a more conservative record than retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

His nomination is getting close scrutiny because he could potentially move the court significantly to the right. Democrats want more information about his role as a government attorney in the 1980s.

Several Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives, joined by liberal women's advocacy groups, and the Congressional Black Caucus plan to formally announce their opposition to Alito on Thursday.

"We are troubled by what appears to be a very conservative judicial philosophy that seems greatly at odds with much of 20th century constitutional jurisprudence," said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat.

The House does not vote on Alito but members could add to the political pressure surrounding the nomination.

Conservatives generally back Alito as a highly qualified Princeton- and Yale-educated jurist with a distinguished record. The fate of the nomination will probably come down to a handful of centrist Democrats in the Senate.

An independent Quinnipiac University poll found 41 percent of the 1,230 registered voters surveyed nationwide believed Alito should be confirmed, and 27 percent opposed him. One-third said they were undecided.

By a 55 percent to 35 percent margin, the voters wanted Alito to publicly state his views on abortion. A majority did not support a filibuster -- a parliamentary device that can be used by the minority -- to block the nomination. The survey was taken from November 28 to December 4 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 points.