IMAGE: ALITO
Lauren Victoria Burke  /  AP
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito
updated 11/3/2005 12:11:50 PM ET 2005-11-03T17:11:50

A group of centists who averted Senate gridlock earlier this year over President Bush’s judicial selections struggled Thursday to find consensus on any “extraordinary circumstances” exist that would merit a Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Two Republican members of the so-called “Group of 14” already had said that they do not consider any questions about Alito’s elevation from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to be serious enough to fit the kind of scenario the group has said would warrant such delaying tactics.

After the group’s first meeting on Alito, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., told reporters there was “a sense that we’re still together and keeping this a civil and orderly process at this point.”

He said the Gang of 14 “is not going to blow up.”

The unity of the group’s seven Republicans and seven Democrats halted a politically charged showdown earlier this year over Bush’s conservative lower court judgeship choices.

But two senators — Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio — already have said they will join with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to eliminate the filibuster for judges if Democrats launch this delaying tactic simply because of Alito’s conservative record.

The White House nominated Alito as a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, an important swing vote on issues like abortion and affirmative action. Alito is Bush’s second pick for the O’Connor seat, following the failure of White House counsel Harriet Miers to garner support from conservatives who were worried about her judicial philosophy and lack of experience as a judge.

‘A lot to talk about'
Other senators in the group, which decided earlier in the year to support filibusters only in such dire circumstances, said they argued that it is too early to make a decision this time around, given that Alito is only in his first week as the nominee.

“Everybody thinks it is too early to decide whether there are ‘extraordinary circumstances,”’ said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. “There’s a lot to read ... a lot to talk about.”

Alito, 55, has served for 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia after being a government lawyer and U.S. attorney, and has a clear conservative paper trail on the bench.

But some people are looking at a young Alito to try to find indicators of how he’d vote on certain issues.

For example, Alito joined the Army reserves while he was a college student because his draft lottery number made it likely he would be taken for the Vietnam War, his college roommates said.

Also, 30 years before the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex, Alito declared on behalf of his group of fellow Princeton University students that “no private sexual act between consenting adults should be forbidden.”

Alito, back in 1971, also called for an end to discrimination against homosexuals in hiring.

“If these are his views today — and there is no indication they are not — it’s a hopeful sign that may provide some insight into his philosophy,” said David Smith, the policy vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates gay rights.

Democrats and filibuster
After a flurry of filibuster talk immediately following Alito’s nomination, Senate Democrats now are taking a wait-and-see stance.

“I don’t know a single Democrat who is saying that it’s time for a filibuster, that we should really consider it,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said after meeting with Alito on Wednesday. “It’s way too early.”

Nelson said Alito had assured him “that he wants to go to the bench without a political agenda, that he is not bringing a hammer and chisel to hammer away and chisel away on existing law.”

Durbin said the judge told him he saw a right to privacy in the Constitution, one of the building blocks of the court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision.

Alito said that when it came to his dissent on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a case in which the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses, that “he spent more time worrying over it and working on that dissent than any he had written as a judge,” Durbin recounted.

Republicans say what they know about him shows that he’s qualified to sit on the high court. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, called Alito a “very, very impressive intellect and a very well qualified nominee.” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas added, “Unless something very different comes out that we don’t know about, I certainly would intend to support him.”

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