WASHINGTON — The Senate all but guaranteed Samuel Alito’s confirmation as the nation’s 110th Supreme Court justice Monday, shutting down a last-minute attempt by liberals to block the conservative judge’s nomination with a filibuster.
Republican and Democratic senators on a 72-25 vote agreed to end their debate, setting up a Tuesday morning vote on his confirmation to replace retiring moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
With at least 57 votes committed to Alito — 53 Republicans and four Democrats — approval by majority vote in the 100-member Senate is now seemingly assured.
Late Monday afternoon, President Bush released a statement expressing pleasure “that a strong, bipartisan majority in the Senate decisively rejected attempts to obstruct and filibuster an up-or-down vote on Judge Sam Alito's nomination.”
Bush's statement was a reference to the bloc of Democrats, led by Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, that unsuccessfully tried over the weekend and Monday to persuade other senators to use a vote-delaying filibuster to stop Alito, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Appeals Court and a former lawyer for the Reagan administration.
“It is the only way we can stop a confirmation that we feel certain will cause irreversible damage to our country,” said Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Alito would replace O’Connor, who has been a swing vote on abortion rights, affirmative action, the death penalty and other issues.
GOP’s Chafee opposes nominee
Alito’s supporters needed 60 votes to block the filibuster, and they were joined by some Democrats who oppose the judge. Likewise, one Republican came out against the judge.
Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island announced that he would vote against Alito’s confirmation. Chafee, a self-described “pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-Bill of Rights Republican,” was the only member of the Republican Party to announce he would vote against the conservative judge.
Chafee refused to support the Democrats’ filibuster attempt, however. “How are we going to get anything done if we can’t work together?” Chafee asked.
But liberal Democrats say that Alito — a former federal prosecutor and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration — would put individual rights and liberties in danger.
Kennedy weighs in
“I think he is the wrong judge at the wrong time in the wrong place,” said Kennedy, a longtime liberal stalwart, who spoke before the cloture vote. “I do not believe he is going to be part of the whole movement of the continued march towards progress in this country.”
Added Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, the chamber’s lone independent: “The addition of Judge Alito would unacceptably shift the balance of the court on many critical issues facing our country.”
But Alito’s supporters said before the vote they already had more than enough votes to ensure that he would be confirmed to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. They still hoped that could happen before President Bush gives his State of the Union speech in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the filibuster attempt “a last-ditch partisan effort to mollify the lobbyists of the hard left. It will backfire, and a filibuster-proof majority will vote to move forward on this nomination.”
Alito has well over 50 votes for confirmation Tuesday. At least 53 of the Republicans’ 55-member majority and three Democrats — Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — already publicly support his confirmation as the replacement for O’Connor.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., also announced Friday he is “leaning in favor of voting for” the conservative judge.
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