Monday, January 09, 2006

Senate Opens Alito Nomination Hearings

Well, the big day has begun. Everyone's been waiting for the Alito hearings to start, and today is the day. This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter promised a "full, fair and dignified hearing" Monday as the Senate began weighing whether Samuel Alito should become the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice.

On the opening day of confirmation hearings, Democrats promised to question President Bush's choice about constitutional powers, the right of privacy, equal rights and abortion--issues that have occupied the high court for decades and are certain to fill the docket for years.

President Bush, right, stands with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 in Washington. Alito, a conservative, 15-year member of the federal appeals court in Philadelphia, was chosen by President Bush on Oct. 31 to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the high court. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Several criticized Alito's 15-year record as an appellate judge.

"Your record raises troubling questions about whether you appreciate the checks and balances in our Constitution--the careful efforts of our Founding Fathers to protect us from a government or a president determined to seize too much power over our lives," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Republicans defended Alito, Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as a fair-minded and brilliant jurist who would be a welcome addition to the court.

Alito, said Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa, "has a reputation for being an exceptional and honest judge devoted to the rule of law, and a man of integrity."

Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden Monday morning, alongside Alito, Bush called the judge "eminently qualified" and said, "Sam's got the intellect necessary to bring a lot of class to that court."

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat, said he would ask Alito how he would demonstrate his independence from the president's interests.

"The Supreme Court is the ultimate check and balance in our system. Independence of the courts and its members is crucial to our democracy," Leahy said.

The Democrat noted O'Connor's record during her 25 years on the court--and underscored the importance of Alito fulfilling that responsibility.

"Her legacy is one of fairness that I want to see preserved," Leahy said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, "The person who fills the O'Connor vacancy will truly tip the balance of the scales of justice in America."

I'm not sure what is going to happen with the Alito hearings. You'll probably see a few softball questions hurled at Alito from the Republicans, while the Democrats may watch to see how Alito responds, and how Alito handles the pressure of the confirmation hearings. The Democrats may lob a few hardball questions, but the heavy stuff may come the next day. The issue of abortion, and the extent of executive power will certainly come up.

What I can say is that Alito is not going to get the same free pass that Chief Justice Roberts got. Roberts replaced William Rehnquist on the court--a conservative replacing a conservative. What you have here is a conservative (Alito) replacing a moderate conservative (Sandra Day O'Conner) on the Supreme Court. This is going to shift the court far more to the right--something the neocons and evangelists have always wanted in their dream of overturning abortion. That's the big prize here. The big question to ask here is how far are the Democrats willing to go in blocking Alito? Are they willing to use the filibuster?

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