KWAME HOLMAN: As Chairman Arlen Specter gaveled the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee to order this morning, the result in the first vote of Judge Alito's Supreme Court candidacy was not in doubt.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I do not believe, notwithstanding all of the cameras here today, that there is a great deal of suspense as to what's going to happen in this committee hearing.
KWAME HOLMAN: That's because all ten Republicans had announced their support for Alito shortly after his confirmation hearings concluded earlier this month.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: His personal background is exemplary, his professional qualifications are outstanding, his educational achievements are of the highest order.
KWAME HOLMAN: The only question was how many, if any, of the committee's eight Democrats would vote for him. Four of them-- Leahy of Vermont, Kennedy of Massachusetts, Durbin of Illinois, and Feinstein of California -- already were on record in opposition. The other four, Delaware's Joseph Biden among them, waited until this morning to announce their positions.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I plan to vote "no" on the nomination of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court, and I do so for three reasons: First, his expansive view of executive power; secondly, his narrow view of the role of the Congress; and third, his grudging reading of anti-discrimination law reflecting, in my view, a lack of understanding of congressional intent and the nature of dissent -- of discrimination in the 21st Century.
KWAME HOLMAN: As the others took their turns to speak --
SEN. HERB KOHL: I cannot support the nomination of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court.
KWAME HOLMAN: -- it became clear that all the Democrats would oppose Samuel Alito. Wisconsin's Russ Feingold argued that Alito's record disqualifies him from sitting on a court that is expected to rule on the appropriate scope of presidential power, an issue currently in the spotlight with the president's admission of domestic spying.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: In times of constitutional crisis, the Supreme Court can tell the executive it has gone too far, and require it to obey the law.
Yet Judge Alito's record and testimony strongly suggest that he would do what he has done for much of his 15 years on the bench: Defer, defer to the executive branch in case after case at the expense of individual rights.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, expectedly, took a different view. One after another they praised the nominee.
SEN. MIKE DeWINE: I saw an experienced judge with a brilliant legal mind.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: A man who will apply the law fairly --
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: His opinions are thoughtful, well-reasoned, careful and respectful of precedent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona's Jon Kyl said Republicans will remember the Democrats' united opposition to Alito when future Supreme Court nominations occur.
He noted that several Republicans had crossed party lines to vote for Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both nominated by President Clinton.
SEN. JON KYL: It is simply unrealistic to think that one party will put itself at a disadvantage by eschewing political considerations, while the other party almost unanimously applies such considerations.
So I say to my Democratic friends, think carefully about what is being done today. Its impact will be felt well beyond this particular nominee.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, three committee Democrats did vote in support of Chief Justice John Roberts, and California Democrats argued the nation and the Senate were far less divided during consideration of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg. Feinstein said her belief that Alito will overturn Roe versus Wade prompted her opposition, not politics.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I really believe the majority of people in America believe that a woman should have certain rights of privacy; modified by the state, but certain rights of privacy. And if you know this person is not going to respect those rights but holds to a different theory, then you have to stand up.
KWAME HOLMAN: That drew criticism from South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham, who noted anti-abortion Republicans abstained from doing so in the past.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: To my friend, Sen. Feinstein, from a pro-life point of view, Justice Ginsburg replaced a vote on Roe v. Wade. Justice Byron White voted against Roe v. Wade. We knew that would be a change, I guess, from the pro-life side, and decided not to make our vote dependent upon Roe v. Wade.
KWAME HOLMAN: When the vote was called --
CLERK: Mr. Coburn --
KWAME HOLMAN: -- there were no surprises: Ten Republicans for, eight Democrats against.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: The committee approves the nomination of Judge Alito for floor action.
KWAME HOLMAN: Alito's nomination now goes to the full Senate for a final vote later this week.
The judge himself was on Capitol Hill this afternoon for meetings with members. Republican leaders hope to confirm Alito and get him on the Supreme Court before President Bush gives his State of the Union address on the last day of the month.