WASHINGTON, January 11, 2005 -- -- After probing for possible weak spots in the record of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Day Two of his confirmation hearings, Democrats used Day Three to poke at what they thought those weak spots were.
But at the end of the day, the Democrats' plan of attack proved to be too much -- at least for one member of the audience.
The nominee's wife, Martha Ann Alito, broke into tears after Republicans expressed their disapproval of how Alito was being treated.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had been sympathizing with Alito, telling him he was sorry he was being subjected to grueling questions from Democrats. In an effort to settle the matter of whether the nominee was prejudiced against women and minorities, Graham asked him directly, but sympathetically, "Are you a bigot?"
Alito responded, "I'm not any kind of bigot."
It was at this point that Alito's wife, who was sitting right behind her husband, began to cry and left the hearing. After a recess in the hearing, she returned for its remainder.
One White House official later said that Mrs. Alito viewed the attacks on her husband as disgraceful. "She was very upset that a good and decent man would get attacked," the official told ABC News. "It's outrageous."
Focus on Two Issues
Democrats had spent the day repeatedly zeroing in on the issues of abortion and civil rights, asking Alito to explain "inconsistencies" between his testimony and past writings.
Perhaps the tensest moments arose over Alito's past membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, or CAP, a conservative group that opposed admitting women and minorities to the university.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., got into a spat with Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Penn., when he demanded that the committee subpoena documents about the group from the Library of Congress -- though later Specter announced that Kennedy's staff would be allowed to view and distribute those materials.
Alito has said repeatedly that he did not even recall belonging to the group, and suggested his membership must have reflected his feelings about the university's decision to expel ROTC from the campus during his senior year. He also said he disavows what the group stood for.
But some Democrats have questioned the truthfulness of that response, since Alito chose to list his membership -- 13 years after he left Princeton -- as part of a job application in the Reagan Justice Department
Others familiar with the group expressed skepticism that Alito would not have been aware of what it stood for. Marsha Levy Warren, a member of the first class of women at Princeton told ABC News that she recalled how "upsetting" it was at the time to know that a group like CAP existed.
"It's very hard for me to imagine that someone was not aware that CAP was a very conservative organization opposed to coeducation."
Precedent Versus Settled Law
Democrats also spent more time today trying to pin down Alito on abortion. Some expressed frustration that Alito, while calling Roe vs. Wade an "important precedent," would not say if he believed it was "settled law" -- unlike John Roberts, who said during his confirmation hearings that he viewed Roe vs. Wade as "settled as a precedent of the court."
They also pressed Alito on the 1985 memo he wrote as a lawyer in the Justice Department, in which he said he did not believe the Constitution protected a woman's right to an abortion.
"I'm sorry to report that your memo seeking a job in the Reagan administration does not evidence an open mind," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. While Alito did not disavow what he wrote, he noted that it was in his capacity as an attorney, not as a judge, and that it was more than two decades ago, "and a great deal has happened in the case law since then."