WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2005 -- After some 700 questions from senators over 18 hours of hearings, Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito appears to be moving closer to confirmation.
Barring any unforeseen developments, the Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to send his nomination to the full Senate. But the vote seems likely to fall along strictly partisan lines, with many Democrats expressing strong reservations about Alito's record as the final round of questioning came to an end.
"I just have to tell you that I remain very troubled, not by anything in your personal history, so much as by your judicial views," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Most Democrats did steer clear of Alito's personal history today -- a contrast to Wednesday's hearings in which he was sharply questioned about his past membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative group that wanted to limit the admission of women and minorities to the university.
In a testy exchange Wednesday, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., quoted an article published by the group as saying: "Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic." Alito strongly rejected those statements, but the tension took a toll on Alito's wife, Martha Ann, who began to cry and had to leave the room.
Today Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., announced at the start of the hearings that staffers had reviewed the CAP documents last night and found no reference to Alito. And Democrats largely left the issue alone -- though Kennedy did complain that Alito hadn't satisfactorily explained why he joined the group in the first place, or why he chose to list his membership on a job application.
Kennedy pressed Alito again as to why he did not list Vanguard companies on any of his recusal lists, after he had promised senators in 1990 to recuse himself from any cases involving Vanguard, a mutual fund company in which he had substantial holdings. Alito noted that he did eventually recuse himself from the one case involving Vanguard that came before him -- albeit not right away.
Democrats Thank Alito's Family
Several Democrats went out of their way today to thank Alito's family, and at one point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., caught Mrs. Alito's eye and mouthed the words "Are you OK?" Mrs. Alito nodded yes, and Feinstein gave her a thumbs up.
Senators touched on a range of issues, from the right to die to the death penalty to immigration. But the issue that dominated this last day of questions was the scope of presidential power.
Feinstein pressed Alito about whether the president had the authority to wiretap Americans without warrants, even though Congress had not granted him that authority in its war resolutions. Alito said he would have to look at the scope of the resolutions authorizing force, and then would have to weigh the president's inherent powers against congressional authority.
"The way I interpret that, correct me if I am wrong, is that you essentially have a conflict and that it has not been decided whether one trumps the other," said Feinstein. "I think that is close to the point I was trying to make," Alito responded.
The stakes involved in Alito's confirmation were underscored by a question from Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., who asked Alito how he was like or unlike Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Alito would be filling and whose centrist stances have made her a swing vote on the Court.
Alito said he would try to emulate O'Connor's "dedication" and "integrity" but did not align himself with her ideologically, saying, "I am my own person."
This afternoon, senators began hearing from a parade of witnesses -- including, for the first time, a number of judges testifying on Alito's behalf. This prompted Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., to ask Alito about "an ethics issue that is not Vanguard." Feingold asked whether Alito would recuse himself if, as a Supreme Court justice, he was asked to review a ruling by one of those particular judges.
"That is not a question I have given any thought to before this minute, senator," said Alito. He promised to give Feingold an answer once he'd had time to think about it.