Democrats Poised Against Alito

Times Staff Writer

Senate Democrats emerged from a strategy meeting Wednesday saying that most members appeared inclined to vote against the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, but that they were unlikely to mount a filibuster to halt his confirmation.

"Arguments were being made pro and con, but mostly con at the moment," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a key vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets the nomination before it goes to the full Senate for debate.

Feinstein reiterated that she planned to vote against Alito, a federal appellate judge from New Jersey, because of his conservative statements on congressional power and on Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Before becoming a judge, Alito wrote that Roe was "wrongly decided" and laid out a strategy to dismantle it.

Feinstein and others cautioned that it was too soon to be certain how Democrats would vote on the nomination, because many members were not back from the winter recess and hadn't made up their minds.

However, most Democrats appeared to be against approval, although few expressed enthusiasm for a filibuster.

"I'm not a fan of Alito," the chamber's Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, said Wednesday. He deflected a follow-up question on the possibility of a filibuster: "No decision has been made on that."

Alito enjoys strong support among the Senate's 55 Republicans, and his confirmation is expected next week. Barring a filibuster, Democrats have little chance of blocking Alito's confirmation.

"There will always be people talking about it," said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the only Democrat who has announced that he will vote in favor of Alito. "The question is, would a filibuster effort be successful? I don't think so."

Alito, seeking to raise his vote tally, held meetings with centrist Democrats on Tuesday, including Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bill Nelson of Florida and Max Baucus of Montana.

Afterward, Baucus said he probably would oppose Alito. "He's just not right for Montana, he's just not right for America," he said. "He's very polished and he answered all of the questions I was going to ask. There is just a little too much inconsistency."

Wyden was noncommittal.

Alito spent three days last week answering questions from members of the Judiciary Committee. The panel is set to vote on the nomination Tuesday, and the full Senate will probably begin debate the following day.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was confirmed in September on a 78-22 vote, with Democrats evenly split. Most observers say Alito is likely to win confirmation, but by a narrower margin.

When Ben Nelson was asked whether he expected any other Democrats to join him in supporting Alito, he demurred.

"I suspect there will be [other Democrats] but I don't know," he said.

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