WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democrats yesterday promised a drawn-out confirmation and perhaps a filibuster for Samuel Alito if the Supreme Court nominee evades or refuses to answer their questions on abortion, presidential war powers and other issues at this week’s confirmation hearings.

Angela Cesere
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, center, walks through Hart Senate building with Bush assistant Jamie Brown, left, and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats. (AP PHOTO)

“If he continuously, given his previous record, refused to answer questions and hid behind ‘I can’t answer this because it might come before me,’ it would increase the chances of a filibuster,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democrats say they will not decide whether to filibuster or try to delay a committee vote until after the committee’s weeklong hearings that begin today.

If Democrats attempt a filibuster based on Alito’s answers on abortion, at least one Republican is ready to vote for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s plan to ban judicial filibusters.

“I would consider that not only not an extraordinary circumstance, but a threat to the independence of the judiciary, and I would stop it in its tracks with my vote,” said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.)

Graham is one of the 14 senators-seven from each party-who joined together to end an earlier Senate showdown of the stalling tactic for the president’s judicial nominees.

That group of centrist lawmakers decided last year to support such filibusters only under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Republicans say there is no reason to delay or filibuster Alito, the federal appeals court judge who is Bush’s choice to succeed the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She often provided the swing vote on abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action and other contentious issues.

“I have not seen any rational basis for filibustering Judge Alito,” said the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Alito will face at least two days of questioning from senators; the nominee and the lawmakers planned to give their opening statements at noon today, hours after Alito’s scheduled breakfast meeting at the White House with the president.

Questioning begins tomorrow and is expected to go through at least Thursday.

Specter has called for a Jan. 17 committee vote. But Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s top Democrat, would not promise that Democrats would stick to that schedule, which Senate leaders hope would lead to a final vote in the full Senate on Jan. 20.

“Obviously, if he doesn’t answer the questions, then it gets out of my control. Some senator would move to hold it over. Let’s hope we get all the answers, so that doesn’t happen,” Leahy told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Alito was the White House’s second choice to replace O’Connor, the high court’s first female justice. White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew from consideration after conservatives questioned her judicial philosophy and qualifications for the Supreme Court.

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