WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats plan to delay the Judiciary Committee’s vote on Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court for at least a week, slowing what could have been a quick confirmation process for President Bush’s pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter had hoped to hold a committee vote on Alito’s nomination on Jan. 17, a little over a week from the Monday start of the federal appellate judge’s confirmation hearings.
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) yesterday that Democrats will invoke their right to hold the Alito committee vote over for one week, Senate leadership aides told The Associated Press.
The aides spoke on conditions of anonymity because the move had not been announced yet.
Frist had been pushing for a Jan. 20 confirmation vote for Alito in the full Senate. The date of the Senate’s confirmation vote would also have to be delayed if the Democrats follow through on their plan to delay.
The Supreme Court is in recess until Feb. 21.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley, when contacted, refused to comment. Calls to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, were not immediately returned.
During the confirmation process for now-Chief Justice John Roberts, Republican and Democratic senators agreed not to delay the committee vote on his nomination by using the customary one-week delay. No such agreement was reached on Alito.
The move is the latest in a tactical battle between Republicans and Democrats over Alito’s nomination. The longtime conservative lawyer and judge will face the Judiciary Committee on Monday for his confirmation hearings to become the 110th Supreme Court justice.
Democrats haven’t completely given up the notion of blocking Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court, though they’re certainly not talking about it before his confirmation hearings.
“I don’t think anybody today sees a reason for a filibuster, but they may after the hearing if the answers are troubling to them or they feel they haven’t gotten the answers to important questions,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.
Democrats contend Alito is too conservative and could undermine some rights if confirmed. Some of their liberal supporters have urged Democrats to do whatever they can to block the nomination, including a filibuster.
It takes 41 votes to sustain a filibuster. With the Senate split with 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Democratic-voting independent, Democrats could launch an Alito filibuster with no GOP votes.
Democrats have said repeatedly they don’t plan to filibuster Alito’s nomination, although they also have refused to promise to refrain from the stalling tactic on the federal appeals court judge.
“I don’t think it’s wise for members to try and outline a strategy other than to make sure these hearings are comprehensive and they’re done with dignity and respect for the nominee,” said Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)