January 31, 2006

Am Gov't - Current Events

Alito Is Confirmed for Supreme Court in 58-42 Vote
Published: January 31, 2006

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 — Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who has been widely praised for his intellect and integrity but both admired and assailed for his conservative judicial philosophy, was confirmed today as the 110th justice in the history of the Supreme Court.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. arrived for a meeting with Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, on Monday.

The 58-to-42 vote in the Senate gives President Bush a political triumph just hours ahead of his televised State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Judge Alito, who watched the vote from the Roosevelt Room in the White House with his family, is expected to be sworn in later today.

As expected, Judge Alito's support hewed closely to party lines. Among two Republican supporters of abortion rights, Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine voted for Judge Alito, while Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island voted no, the only Republican to do so.

Judge Alito also won the support of four Democrats: Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

The vote is also a triumph for the conservative movement, whose adherents have longed to tilt the balance of the court to the right.

Admirers and critics have predicted that Samuel Alito will do just that. Legal scholars have described his jurisprudence as cautious, respectful of precedent — and solidly conservative. In contrast, the justice he will succeed, Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring, came to be widely regarded as a swing justice between the tribunal's liberal and conservative wings.

In a news conference after the vote, some Republicans noted the partisan fight that had ensued over the Alito nomination, especially over the concern about how the judge would rule on cases involving abortion rights.

"There have been a great many concerns raised about how he is going to vote on specific cases," Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said about Judge Alito. "There's no doubt about his qualification in terms of education, professional career and his service on the court of appeals, and we have seen in the long history of the court that there's no way to determine in advance how a nominee is going to vote."

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said later, "I must say that I wish the president was in a position to do more than claim a partisan victory tonight."

"The union would be better and stronger and more unified if we were confirming a different nominee, a nominee who could have united us more than divided us," Mr. Schumer said, according to The Associated Press.

Judge Alito, who sat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for some 15 years, is only 55, so he could be on the Supreme Court for decades. He becomes the second relatively young conservative to ascend to the court in recent months. Last fall, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who turned 51 on Friday, replaced William H. Rehnquist, who died in early September.

Judge Alito's supporters have described him as a jurist who would not seek to undo the work of legislators and adopt his own agenda. His detractors say he has consistently sided with big government and big business, and that he does not believe a woman has a right to an abortion.

Today's vote was momentous politically and, for Judge Alito, personally. But it was in a sense anticlimactic; confirmation was assured on Monday afternoon, when the Senate voted to shut off debate on the nomination and give the nominee a yes-or-no vote.

Despite their differences over his judicial philosophy, Alito supporters and opponents have agreed that his is an inspiring American story.

Samuel Alito grew up in modest circumstances in Trenton, the son of an Italian immigrant father who worked for the New Jersey Legislature and a mother who was a school principal. As an undergraduate at Princeton and a student at Yale Law School, he garnered prestigious academic prizes as well as notice for his conservative views, which were conspicuously in the minority, and for his civility in engaging ideological opponents.

When Judge Alito graduated from Princeton in 1972, an intense moment in the Vietnam anti-war movement, he was just one of 12 members of his class to receive a military commission through the R.O.T.C program. He served just three months on active duty, in 1975, though he remained in the Army Reserve until 1980.

His involvement with a conservative Princeton alumni group became something of an issue during his confirmation hearings when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said that it had held positions opposing the admission of women and minorities. Judge Alito said he had little to do with the group and had joined it simply because it was fighting efforts to abolish R.O.T.C. from the Princeton campus. The committee passed his nomination to the full Senate on a strict party-line vote, 10 to 8.

Before the first President Bush elevated him to the appeals court in 1990, Judge Alito worked mostly as a government lawyer in a number of positions in Washington and New Jersey, including a stint as United States attorney there.

Despite his deep New Jersey roots, Judge Alito was confirmed today without the support of the senators from his home state. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, said the judge's philosophy made him a bad choice for the high court.

"It's not where you come from that matters," Mr. Menendez said before the vote, "but where you will take the nation."

But history shows that a justice's path cannot always be charted in advance.

Two of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Supreme Court nominees, Earl Warren and William J. Brennan Jr., turned out to be considerably more liberal than Eisenhower had envisioned or desired. And Justice David H. Souter, named to the court by the first President Bush, has likewise been a disappointment to latter-day conservatives.


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