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Democrat breaks ranks, to back Alito

Confirmation chances for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito were looking better Wednesday after Senate Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska said he'd vote for Alito, praising him as a man of “impeccable judicial credentials.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has the confirmation vote of at least one Senate Democrat but several other Democrats said Wednesday they had lingering questions about the nominee and will vote against him.

Before Senate Democrats met to discuss the nomination, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., emerged from a morning meeting with Alito and said he would vote against President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee as too far outside the mainstream of judicial thinking.

“He’s just not right for Montana, he’s just not right for America,” Baucus said. “He’s very polished and he answered all of the questions I was going to ask. There is just a little too much inconsistency.”

Baucus said he is concerned that Alito leans toward giving too much power to the executive branch and has wavered on the right to privacy. He said he was also concerned about Alito’s membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which discouraged the admission of women and minorities at the Ivy League school.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., also said she would vote against Alito. “I have a lot of unanswered questions,” Mikulski told reporters after attending the swearing-in of new Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Committee vote Tuesday
Alito’s eventual confirmation appears assured. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on Alito’s nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who often casts the swing vote on controversial cases. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has announced that debate on the nomination will begin in the full Senate on Jan. 25.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, announced Tuesday in a statement that he had made up his mind to support Alito “because of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Association’s strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the court.”

All 10 Republicans on the panel have endorsed Alito, assuring him of approval even though most of the eight committee Democrats are expected to oppose his confirmation.

Eyes on three other Democrats
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was expected to officially announce his position on Alito in a speech to Georgetown University on Thursday. Leahy and two other committee Democrats — Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, both of Wisconsin — voted for now-Chief Justice John Roberts’ confirmation.

Alito is meeting several senators over the next couple of days, including Menendez and Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia on Thursday. Menendez has not said how he’ll vote on Alito, while Warner said Thursday that he “fully expects” to vote for his confirmation.

Nelson, who is seeking re-election this fall in his Republican state, said in his statement that he has “supported more than 215 of President Bush’s nominations to the federal bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts.”