The Senate voted 58-42 to confirm the former federal appellate judge, U.S. attorney and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration as a replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor, whose resignation became official with Tuesday’s vote.
All but one of the Senate’s majority Republicans voted for Alito’s confirmation, while all but four Democrats voted against Alito — the smallest number of senators in the president’s opposing party to support a Supreme Court justice in modern history.
Chief Justice John Roberts got 22 Democratic votes last year, and Justice Clarence Thomas — who was confirmed in 1991 on a 52-48 vote — got 11 Democratic votes.
The vote came just hours before President Bush was to deliver his State of the Union address. Both of the president’s nominees — Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito — are expected to attend.
Alito, who watched the final vote from the White House’s Roosevelt Room with his family, took the oath from Roberts and will have a public swearing in Wednesday in the White House East Room.
In contrast to the moderate O’Connor, who was teaching a class at the University of Arizona Law School Tuesday, Alito is solidly conservative and often described by legal scholars as cautious and respectful of precedent.
His work for the Reagan administration in the 1980s caused the most controversy during his three-month candidacy for the court. In a 1985 job application for a Reagan administration post, he wrote that he was proud of his work helping the government argue that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”
In his recent confirmation hearings, however, Alito said he has great respect for the law granting the right to an abortion, Roe v. Wade. “I would approach the question with an open mind and I would listen to the arguments that were made,” he told senators during the hearings.
Several Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to rally support for a filibuster to block a vote on Alito late last week. Although most Democrats saw the filibuster as a political mistake, they remained staunchly opposed to the nominee.
“The 1985 document amounted to Judge Alito’s pledge of allegiance to a conservative radical Republican ideology,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said before the vote, according to the Associated Press.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., hailed the confirmation, saying, “In every respect, Judge Alito is a nominee who meets the highest standards of excellence,” according to Reuters.