Alito Hearings Scheduled for January 9
The schedule means the Senate will not meet the president’s goal of a final vote on the judge’s nomination by Christmas.
“It couldn’t be done,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., said. “We have to do it right, we can’t do it fast.”
Committee Chairman Specter said the hearings would run through Friday January 13th with the possibility of an additional Saturday hearing day if warranted. The nomination should go to the floor on January 18th for up to three days of debate with a vote on the nomination expected on January 20th.
The delay gives supporters and opponents more time to sort through the 300 opinions Alito wrote as a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Because activists and some Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster Alito’s confirmation, the nominee has been meeting with Democrats from Republican-leaning states in the hopes thwarting any effort to block a final vote. Republicans need five Democrats to end a filibuster and force an up-or-down vote.
“I think it will be very, very hard for red-state Democrats to vote against this nominee because he is so qualified,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who defeated then-Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle a year ago, adding that Alito’s conservative beliefs largely match those of the senators’ constituents.
Senate Republicans have also threatened the “nuclear option,” which would change Senate rules to ban judicial filibusters. The proposed rule change would require only 51 votes to be adopted.
Democrats have not yet decided how to proceed.
“There are differences in this [Democratic] caucus as to how conservative he is,” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told the Washington Post, adding that his party cannot block Alito unless it is united and able to lure a few moderate Republicans.
“This is not over competence,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “He certainly is competent. This is the whole issue of ideology, and if the ideology is one that you go in with a predetermined agenda, then I don’t care if they are a Democrat or a Republican. They don’t belong on the Supreme Court.”
Of the 156 Supreme Court nominees since the court was created, 35 have been rejected or withdrawn, according to the Congressional Research Service, including Robert Bork, President Ronald Reagan’s conservative nominee in 1987, and Harriet Miers, President Bush’s nominee who withdrew last month because of criticism of her credentials.