Monday, October 31, 2005

Bush Names Highly Qualified Nominee for Supreme Court

This morning, Pres. Bush nominated Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Alito has been a federal appellate judge on the Third Circuit for 15 years. The Senate, then controlled by Democrats, confirmed him unanimously for that position in 1990. Before that, Alito was a federal prosecutor and worked in the office of the U.S. Solicitor General, which argues cases on behalf of the U.S. government. Alito graduated from Princeton and Yale law school.

Alito is considered a strong conservative judge. He will probably be opposed vigorously by liberal Democrats, even those who voted to confirm him in 1990.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a moderate to liberal Republican, said that Alito's nomination should enjoy smooth sailing. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), leader of the Democrats' opposition to Bush's judicial nominees, and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader, are not happy with the nomination of Alito.

Republican senators at this early point in the confirmation process are likely to support Alito. Only 3 Republican senators have voted against confirmation of any Bush judicial nominee. If that holds true for Alito, Republicans will have at least 52 votes to confirm Alito, enough to confirm his nomination but not enough to shut off a filibuster.

On the other side, most Senate Democrats will likely oppose confirmation. After all, 22 Democrats voted against John Roberts, the single best qualified Supreme Court nominee in a very long time. Given the probability of a majority in the Senate for confirmation, Senate Democrats face a preliminary decision whether to filibuster the nomination. If they do filibuster, the success of a filibuster will hinge on the 7 Democrats in the group of 14 who crafted the compromise deal on judicial nominations.

If those 7 Democrats, or at least 3 of them (because that makes 41 votes to keep a filibuster going), support a filibuster, Senate Republicans will face a decision whether to change Senate rules to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees. This is the same decision that Republicans faced a few months ago on appellate judicial nominees. Then, the 7 Republicans in the group of 14 avoided the decision by reaching the compromise deal. Because those 7 Republicans refused to confront the decision then, they may face it now when more of the public is watching.

It is too early to predict the outcome of the 2 parties' political decisions, which depend greatly on public reaction. However, Alito is highly qualified, and defeating him will be difficult.

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