Despite Samuel Alito's strong conservative record -- and judicial views on abortion -- some experts say it is unlikely Senate Democrats will successfully filibuster his nomination to the Supreme Court.
President Bush nominated Alito, a federal judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor, a key swing vote on the court who announced her retirement last summer. Unlike Harriet Miers, who bowed out last week after scathing criticism from both sides of the aisle, Alito is an experienced judge with a strong conservative record.
"Because it's O'Connor's seat, and because of the changed political dynamics over the last 60 days, the Democrats will be much more oppositional than they were with Roberts," said Brad Berenson, who was associate White House counsel during President Bush's first term and is now an ABC News consultant. "But Alito is no ideologue, and his record will be hard to caricature. I think at the end of the day it'll be almost impossible to filibuster him, and certainly not successfully."
"His career focus has certainly been on the appellate side, but he also served as U.S. Attorney, so he's seen the law at ground level," Berenson continued. "He has a longer record than Judge [Supreme Court Chief Justice] Roberts, so a few more targets to shoot at, but when you factor in Judge Roberts' Department of Justice and White House memos, it's not clear that there's anything about Judge Alito that will be more obviously objectionable to the left than was in Judge Roberts's record. He has more criminal law experience and expertise than Judge Roberts did."
Alito has been nicknamed "Scalito" by some lawyers because of similarities between his judicial philosophy and writings and Justice Antonin Scalia. Conservatives have lauded Alito's record as evidence of a judicial philosophy of strict interpretation of the Constitution and argue he has been a powerful voice for First Amendment guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion.
Liberal groups, however, have focused Alito's similarities to Scalia and are arguing that his nomination — especially his record on civil rights and reproductive rights -- raises troubling concerns. Alito has been a frequent dissenter on the 3rd Circuit, known as one of the most liberal federal appellate benches in the nation. In 1992, Alito was the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a case where the court struck down a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses. The case ultimately ended up at the Supreme Court where the justices, in a 6-3 decision struck down the spousal notification provision.
"When people -- not just women but people across the country -- find out about this decision and others, they're not going to want Samuel Alito on the court," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. "This is the most important and most controversial Supreme Court nomination battle since Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas."
The American Civil Liberties Union urged the Senate to examine Alito's civil liberties record, especially since he would replace O'Connor.