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Senate Debates Supreme Court Nominee Alito

January 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Judge Samuel Alito this week still was having get- to-know-you sessions with senators, even after his nomination had cleared its first hurdle: Party-line approval in the Judiciary Committee.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: I think you brought credit to yourself, to the Supreme Court as an institution. The surveys indicate the American people are overwhelmingly hype your nomination. And we believe that the vote on the Senate floor will reflect that.

KWAME HOLMAN: All but three of the Senate’s 55 Republicans have announced their support for Alito; none against. And Alito also has picked up the backing of three Democrats– Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, and West Virginia’s Robert Byrd.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I refuse simply to toe the party line when it comes to Supreme Court justices. Like to a majority of my constituents, I prefer conservative judges.

KWAME HOLMAN: With 55 members now on record in favor of Alito, the judge needs only five more votes to guarantee he’ll get a final, confirming vote on Tuesday.

SEN. BILL FRIST: As all of our colleagues know, it is very important from our standpoint that this nominee be given a vote that is up or down, which reflects the advice and consent of this body.

KWAME HOLMAN: As for the 33 Democrats who’ve announced they’ll vote against Alito, none had been willing to go so far as to say they would try to block the nomination with a filibuster, until yesterday. That’s when Massachusetts’ John Kerry, at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, released a statement saying he would push to stop the Alito nomination. Kerry said: “It’s our right and our responsibility to oppose him vigorously and to fight against this radical upending of the Supreme Court.”

Kerry was back on the Senate floor today.

SEN. JOHN Kerry: Why are we so compelled to accept in such a rush a nominee who has so clearly has been chosen for political and ideological reasons?

KWAME HOLMAN: A handful of Kerry’s colleagues have said they would back him, including Massachusetts’ other senator, Edward Kennedy.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: And I cannot in good conscience support Judge Alito for the Supreme Court of the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: And while Democratic leader Harry Reid yesterday was ready to throw in the towel on the Alito nomination —

SEN. HARRY REID: No one can complain in this matter that there hasn’t been sufficient time to talk about Judge Alito, pro or con.

KWAME HOLMAN: Reid today said he, too, will back the filibuster, as will his deputy Dick Durbin. However, Durbin admitted it would be an uphill battle.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Of course, one of the first responsibilities of someone in Congress is to learn how to count. And being the whip on the Democratic side, that’s what I do.

And having made a count, I have come to the conclusion it is highly unlikely that a filibuster would succeed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Republicans seemed to enjoy watching Sen. Kerry’s last minute attempts to mount a filibuster. White House spokesman Scott McClellan:

SCOTT McCLELLAN: This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland. I think even for a senator it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

KWAME HOLMAN: Alabama’s Jeff Sessions called Kerry’s effort “pointless,” and reminded Democrats that their previous leader, South Dakota’s Tom Daschle, was defeated by John Thune after Daschle led filibusters of several appeals court nominees.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I submit to you, members of this body, that the people of South Dakota weren’t happy with that. And in large part, Sen. Thune is here today because of the obstruction of the Democrats over the last several years of highly qualified nominees who simply believe a federal judge should show restraint and follow the law. That’s all we want, that’s all the American people want, that’s what we have a right to expect in federal judges.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mississippi’s Trent Lott also issued a warning.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: I hope our colleagues will not impose a filibuster here, and force, you know, an action by the Senate to stop that sort of thing from happening.

KWAME HOLMAN: The action Lott referred to is the so-called “nuclear option,” a controversial maneuver in which Republicans would change the rules to permit contested judicial confirmations by a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 required normally.

But today, Republican leaders believed that option wouldn’t be necessary, claiming Alito would have the votes needed to end debate on Monday.