Thursday, January 12, 2006
Reuters: Dems frustrated over Alito's evasiveness
by Thomas Ferraro and Joanne Kenen
WASHINGTON - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito faced more aggressive questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday from Democrats who accused him of evasive answers and challenged his commitment to keep an "open mind" on abortion.
While President George W. Bush's conservative nominee appeared headed for confirmation by the full Republican-led Senate later this month, several Democrats made it clear that after a relatively gentle start of proceedings, they planned to put up an election-year fight.
"Judge Alito has responded, but he has not answered," Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said during a break in the third day of the hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Schumer criticized Alito's repeated promise to keep an "open mind" on abortion, saying, "Has a judge ever said he would be closed-minded?"
Bush has nominated Alito, 55, a federal appeals judge the past 15 years, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has often been the swing vote on abortion and other social issues on the nine-member court.
Democrats continued to raise the abortion issue with Alito, having gotten no clear statement on whether he would vote to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. After effectively parrying the question the preceding day, Alito clung to earlier responses, generating increased frustration for Democrats who fear he will push the high court to the right if confirmed.
Alito, who opposed abortion in a recently disclosed memo he wrote as a Reagan administration attorney two decades ago, has not said how he would rule if abortion came before him on the high court. But the nominee reaffirmed his vow to respect legal precedent and noted the 1973 decision had been upheld repeatedly.
"The more often a decision is reaffirmed, the more people tend to rely on it," Alito said, adding the legal terrain had changed since he wrote the 1985 memo opposing abortion.
DEMOCRATS CITE INCONSISTENCIES
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, left, the committee's top Democrat, said Democrats were troubled by what they saw as inconsistencies in many of Alito's answers, from abortion rights to presidential powers.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, to Leahy's right, a Massachusetts Democrat, got into a dispute with Chairman Arlen Specter over his request the committee vote to subpoena records of the disbanded group called Concerned Alumni of Princeton, or CAP.
Alito listed membership in the group in a 1985 application for a job in the Reagan administration. He told the committee he had no recollection of any involvement with the conservative group, which opposed efforts to admit more women and minorities.
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, first took issue with Kennedy's request, saying the Democrat had never asked for access to the records. "I'm not going to have you run this committee," Specter said.
Later, the chairman said the committee would get the records.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "As a Princeton alumnus, I had concerns about CAP, but I have no concerns about Judge Alito's credibility, integrity and his commitment to protecting the equal rights of all Americans."
"Judge Alito has condemned discrimination, and his record of more than 15 years demonstrates his commitment to equal rights for women and minorities," Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement.
Democrats were also troubled that Alito refused to disavow a 1985 memo in which he wrote, "The Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."
"I'm concerned that many people will leave this hearing with a question as to whether or not you could be the deciding vote that would eliminate the legality of abortion," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, a member of the committee and assistant Senate Democratic leader.
Durbin's statement led to a minor confrontation with Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who used part of his questioning to raise questions about Durbin's commitment to abortion rights.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan. Source: Reuters & Common Dreams Newsletter.
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