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Alito Pledges to Keep Open Mind About Abortion, Executive Power

By Richard W. Stevenson 
and Neil A. Lewis


Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. pledged on Tuesday to bring an open mind to the Supreme Court on abortion rights and sought to rebut suggestions that he has an overly expansive view of presidential powers as he parried a barrage of questions at the heart of his confirmation battle.

In his first public give and take with the ten Republicans and eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who will pass initial judgment on his fitness for the seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Alito engaged in a day of high stakes sparring with Democrats who are concerned that he would move the court to the right on some of the most divisive issues facing the nation.

Giving careful, limited answers to probing and sometimes aggressive questions about his views on abortion, Alito said he would give considerable weight to decades of rulings built on the concept that a decision to terminate a pregnancy falls under a constitutional right to privacy.

But he did not commit himself to upholding or overturning the right to an abortion, and he did not address whether he might support further incremental restrictions on abortions.

Under nine and a half hours of on and off questioning on the second day of his hearing before the committee, Alito also tried to avoid locking himself into any specific position on executive authority.

He said no president can operate outside the law and the Constitution, but he repeatedly dodged efforts to solicit his views on whether President Bush had exceeded his authority in the recently disclosed eavesdropping program and in the way terrorism suspects and enemy combatants have been held.

The judge, who was frequently defended by the panel’s Republicans, addressed other issues that Democrats tried to use against him.