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Alito...s Confirmation Certain Given Likely Party-Line Vote

By David D. Kirkpatrick
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Tuesday to approve the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. as senators turned the occasion into a broader and sometimes heated debate over the rancorous and partisan nature of the confirmation process.

Republicans threatened retaliation against future Democratic nominees, saying that Democrats had rallied party members to vote against Alito’s confirmation for political reasons unrelated to his qualifications. Democrats said that a close vote would warn President Bush not to name such conservative judges.

Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court by a vote of the full Senate is now all but assured, probably by another vote roughly along party lines.

Recalling the overwhelming and bipartisan majorities that approved President Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees, justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, several Republican senators said that their party had evaluated the qualifications of nominees in less ideological terms. They said that the Democratic opposition to Alito could alter the judicial confirmation process.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., warned: “So I say to my Democratic friends, think carefully about what is being done today. Its impact will be felt well beyond this particular nominee.”

Democrats countered that the Bush administration had politicized the confirmation process by nominating a roster of staunch conservatives to the federal courts.

“It’s a very different day and time” than during the Clinton administration’s nominations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “There was not the polarization within America that is there today and not the defined move to take this court in a singular direction.”

The committee vote, with all 10 Republicans voting to confirm and all eight Democrats voting to reject the nomination, sets the stage for equally contentious if predictable debate beginning Wednesday on the Senate floor. Many Democrats have indicated they are unlikely to seek to block the nomination with a filibuster, virtually guaranteeing that Alito will be confirmed by a majority vote.

Democratic leaders are nonetheless pushing for a prolonged debate over the nomination to make their case against Alito as a potential issue in the fall elections. And Democratic aides say privately that they also hope to hold off the final vote until Tuesday, when the president’s State of the Union speech will overshadow the news.

Behind the public arguments about the importance of the courts and the confirmation process, strategists for both parties say they are planning to use the Senate vote as a political weapon in the midterm elections. Such elections are typically decided by the turnout of party loyalists, and such voters would most likely have passionate views on the Alito nomination.

Republicans are laying the groundwork to attack Democrats who vote against Alito as beholden to liberal interest groups. Democrats plan to make an issue of his votes on subjects like abortion rights or environmental regulations.