Tuesday, January 31, 2006
After several weeks of at times contentious deliberation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the United States Senate confirmed Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to the Supreme Court with 58 votes in favor and 42 against. Only one Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, voted against confirmation. Four Democrats, including former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia, voted for confirmation. Alito was sworn-in later in the day.
Alito had been nominated by President George W. Bush following the withdrawal of his original Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, a criminal lawyer and close associate of Bush since before his tenure as Governor of Texas from 1994-2000. Miers, facing harsh criticism of her qualifications for a position on the high court, along with growing opposition from members of the conservative movement, elected to withdraw in October 2005.
Alito was nominated shortly after Miers’ withdrawal, and faced the Judiciary Committee in January 2006.
With the Bush Administration facing poor approval ratings following the withdrawal of Miers, Senate Democrats put forth a strong offensive to the confirmation of Alito. They questioned Alito extensively of his record on abortion, exercise of executive authority, his opinions on various legal issues while studying at Princeton University and his membership in the CAP group there.
Following the Judiciary Committee’s party-line vote approving Alito, efforts were spearheaded by ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) to filibuster Alito’s confirmation. However, the motion to end debate on Alito ended with a 72-25 cloture vote; Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledged that a filibuster was not a realistic option to stop Alito’s confirmation.
Alito is the second judge to be appointed and confirmed to the Supreme Court by President Bush. His first appointee, Judge John Roberts, was confirmed by the Senate in the autumn of 2005. Following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Roberts was immediately selected to fill Rehnquist’s post.
Alito will be replacing Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was a crucial swing vote in an ideologically divided Court. With the appointment of Alito, the Court will most likely experience a shift to the political right. How much of a shift cannot be precisely determined, as it remains to be seen how Alito will rule in cases involving critical social issues.
Alito earned a bachelor’s degree in law from Princeton University, and did his graduate work at Yale Law School. Most of his bench experience has come at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has served as a justice since 1990, when President George H.W. Bush nominated him for the post. He follows current Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia as the second Italian-American member of the high court.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) told the AP that the United States would “be better and stronger and more unified if we were confirming a different nominee, a nominee who could have united us more than divided us”.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) said he is concerned with Alito’s “philosophy of the Constitution [and] his great effort of many years to expand presidential power at a time when there are real serious questions about the powers the president has”.
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said there are no doubts about Alito’s “qualification in terms of education, professional career and his service on the court of appeals.”
And in a written statement, President Bush called Alito a “brilliant and fair-minded judge who strictly interprets the Constitution and laws and does not legislate from the bench. He is a man of deep character and integrity, and he will make all Americans proud as a Justice on our highest court.”